A journalist who last month became the first Afghan woman to ever interview a member of the Taliban has fled the country.
Beheshta Arghand’s on-air questioning of a Taliban spokesperson, just days after the group took over Kabul, attracted worldwide attention for appearing to suggest the Taliban might be more willing to accept women in the workplace, as well as being more open to respecting press freedoms.
But in the days following her interview, Arghand said, the group moved quickly to crack down on media organisations, such as her employers, Tolo News, ordering some to suspend their women journalists and demanding that those that stayed on air wear a hijab. The Taliban have also pushed news organisations to stop covering the group’s takeover of the country.
“When you can't [even] ask easy questions, how can you be a journalist,” Arghand told Reuters, speaking from Qatar where she has now fled.
“I was shocked,” she said, recalling the day the Taliban turned up at her set “I said to myself that maybe they came to ask why did I come to the studio...[Luckily] I always wear long clothes in the studio because we have different people with different minds.”
Arghand’s recollection of the Taliban’s treatment of women journalists matches the accounts from multiple Afghan women who have told VICE World News that members of the Taliban had stopped them from going to work, citing fear for their safety as a reason to send them home. “We were told that the situation is not good, and that they want us to be safe,” one journalist told VICE World News. In a video posted online, her colleague added: “Despite wearing a hijab and carrying the correct ID, I was told by the Taliban: ‘The regime has changed. Go home.’”
In their first press conference following the seizure of Kabul, the Taliban promised that women’s rights would be upheld within the boundaries of what is permitted under Sharia, Islamic law. Arghand doesn’t believe the hardline group will even live up to that. "Women – Taliban they don't accept,” she said. “When a group of people don't accept you as a human, they have some picture in their mind of you, it's very difficult.”