The Afghan television anchor Beheshta Arghand, who interviewed a Taliban official live on air after the fall of Kabul, has since fled to Qatar and told how the militants are pushing women out of journalism.
“Women – Taliban they don’t accept. 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,” Arghand said.
Arghand’s interview was a propaganda coup for the Taliban that made headlines around the world. The militants aimed to show a more moderate face as they promised to respect women’s rights.
But Arghand has told how off-camera, the facade soon fell, and it was about a week before her life turned into a nightmare. The Taliban ordered her employer, Tolo News, to make all women wear a hijab – closely covering their heads but leaving the face uncovered. The Taliban also suspended female anchors in other stations.
She said the Islamist group asked local media to stop talking about their takeover and their rule. “When you can’t [even] ask easy questions, how can you be a journalist?”
Many of her colleagues had already left the country despite Taliban assurances that the freedom of the media was improving every day and that women would have access to education and work. She was soon to follow, along with her mother, sisters and brothers. They joined the tens of thousands of foreigners and Afghan nationals who took part in the chaotic US-led evacuation.
“I called Malala [Yousafzai] and asked her if she can do something for me,” she said. Yousafzai, who she had interviewed, helped to get her on Qatar’s list of evacuees. The Nobel winner survived being shot by a Pakistani Taliban gunman in 2012 because of her campaigning for women and girls’ education.
Arghand recalled how she adjusted her headscarf to look more like a traditional close-fitting hijab when a Taliban official showed up, uninvited, in her studio, asking to be interviewed. It was only two days after the Islamist group took over Kabul.
“I saw that they came (to the television station). I was shocked, I lost my control … 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,” the 23-year-old told Reuters in Doha, where she has lived since fleeing Afghanistan on 24 August.
She looked down at her body to be sure that no other parts were showing and started firing her questions, becoming in the process the first Afghan female journalist to quiz a member of the hardline group.
Looking back, Arghand said she realised how much she loved her country and a profession she chose over the objections of her family.
“When I sat in the airplane, I told myself that now you don’t have anything,” she said.