Farkhunda: the woman who stood for the truth

Farkhunda, a young woman, one of the victims of yet another unjust killing, was beaten by a mob on March 19, 2015 in the streets of Kabul.

This was by far one of the worst kinds of deaths faced since the rule of the Taliban. But this time it was not the Taliban who killed the young woman, it was the men in the streets of Kabul. They were not linked to any extremist groups. This raises concerns, is Afghanistan corrupted by their own people? Will women ever be in safe hands in Afghanistan?

Despite of improvements of security, Farkhunda was beaten and set on fire by a mob of men in the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul. She was accused of burning the Quran but according to Afghanistan’s interior minister, Farkhunda was innocent.

Minister, Noorulhaq Ulumi, said “The accusation against her is completely invalid. Farkhunda was a religious girl, she was not involved [in burning the Koran], she was innocent.”

Farkhunda allegedly had an argument with one of the Mullahs about his practice of selling charms at the mosque of Shah-Do Shamshira. He then accused her of burning the Quran.

Police investigations revealed that she did not burn the Quran. She was beaten by a mob, thrown over the bridge and then had her body set on fire and thrown in the river.

According to sources, the crowd were chanting anti-American and anti-democratic slogans while beating Farkhunda. Videos show that police were present during the incident, but they did not take any action to end the violence.

The father of Farkhunda complained about the lack of police efforts to save her. Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan described the killing as “heinous” and ordered a commission to investigate the killing. He said the death of Farkhunda has exposed that Afghan police need to start focusing on local policing as much as on the Taliban insurgency.

Islamic scholars in Afghanistan expressed their outrage over the incident and described it as unlawful. A local cleric, Haji Noor Ahmad said, “People come and execute a person arbitrarily, this is totally prohibited and unlawful.” However some Islamic Scholars justified the killing, which angered the public.

Protests took place in Afghanistan and around other parts of the World too such as, London, Australia, Canada and America. Afghans gathered in crowds asking for justice.

Women in Afghanistan protested, demanding the government to prosecute those who took part in the killings of Farkhunda. The funeral of Farkhunda involved more women than men. Men were not allowed to take part in Farkhundas funeral as they were the reason for her death.

Images of the protest in London, Trafalgar Square

A short piece written by an Afghan teacher – Zakia Hemat

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In the past I was a teacher. I loved my job. I taught mathematics. I remember how the students with interest learned. As a young woman, I had more energy to teach back then. I went to class with good materials and methods that I learned in University, from our highly educated teachers. We were always very happy to teach and learn.

Unfortunately, our country , Afghanistan, was involved in a war that nobody wanted, just those who worked for themselves. All our achievements were gone with the wind. The doors of schools and universities closed and people became homeless. In order to save their lives, people traveled from province to province, becoming refugees in other countries. I was one of them. With many difficulties to flee.

I believe in my people, they will stand on their own feet again and re-build our destroyed country. Nelson Mandela once said, “The future should be built on hope, not fear.”

Zakia Hemat ( A well known, brave and intelligent teacher, who once taught students in Afghanistan.)

Photojournalists in Afghanistan

Images are a very important part of our lives. It is images that keep us informed about the events happening in the world. People are almost obsessed with images in today’s society. There are social networking sites that simply cannot be functioned without the use of images, for example Facebook and Instagram.

As an observer I have come to a conclusion that people are obsessed with social networking sites like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter purely because it gives them a sense of importance with all the likes they receive after publishing an image online.

Images of oneself is promoted more than images of real events. Videos and photographs play a major role in the online world, but images that should be given more importance do not receive much attention.

Below are some images I came across online which, as a journalist, I fell in love with and felt the need to share it with those who haven’t already seen them.

KABUL: NO GREEN ZONE

There is no green zone in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Every rout is RED. It has also taken over the country’s local media.

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Every headline starts with the news of insurgent attacks happening all around the country almost every day:

“Bombers attack on a foreign guesthouse in Kabul, killing two”

“Explosion in Mazar-e-Sharif city (North) injures 4 civilians”

“Blast in Nangarhar mosque (East) wounds 34 civilian”.

There is no place to run to in Afghanistan, danger has crept into every corner. Afghan security officials who are appearing on Local televisions are speechless and are finding it difficult to hide their failure of preventing these attacks.

Afghan official who wants to be anonymous said, despite the fact that Afghan security agencies receive information about the suicide attacks days before they take place; they are unable to take action to stop it.

He said that in most cases Afghan security officials know the exact hiding place, the location and even the safe homes where suspected suicidal are living. Moreover they even know the attackers target points but they are not able to take any action against the suspects to prevent the attacks.

In the past few weeks’ dozens of civilians have been killed or injured in several suicide attacks in Kabul North, East, South and West of the country. There is no reaction from the National unity government, especially President Ashraf Ghani who was mostly outside the country on official visits since he took office two months ago.

While the London Conference on Afghanistan is taking place on 4th December, co-hosted by the governments of the UK and Afghanistan, the National unity government is trying to overcome disputes over sharing power, even though they are not in a position yet to address the security issues.

Analysts agree that the national unity government is not yet in a position to work together, as they are struggling to share government’s posts. This is against what President Ghani promised in his speech during his inauguration ceremony two months ago. He said, “A national unity government is not about sharing power, but about working together”.

The conference is expected to provide a platform for the government of Afghanistan in order to set out its vision for reform and for the international community to demonstrate enduring solidarity and support for Afghanistan, but it is announced that the Afghan delegation will attend the conference with some old acting ministers.

Experts have raised the issue that there are allegations of corruption against some of the minsters that were failing to secure the country, so how can the same ministers remain accountable to commitments of the up coming London conference?

Parwin Wafa; the brave Afghan woman

 

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Parwan Wafa one of the many women facing difficulty in Afghanistan shared her story.

 Recently, Parwin was invited to a talk in London by Amnesty international. She is from Afghanistan and had never travelled abroad; this was the first time in England.

The talk was a great inspiration to me. Parwin spoke of the life she had lived in Afghanistan and the difficult times she faced.

Parwin Wafa is a head teacher at a girl’s school, which she first opened in the Laghman province of Afghanistan during the time of the Taliban. As a brave woman she risked the possible dangers she could have faced for opening a school for girls. An act, looked upon as a ‘crime’ in the time of the Taliban.

Despite the fact that she was threatened, followed and attacked on many occasions she said, “I was in a lot of danger, but my life didn’t matter anymore. I just wanted to change the life those girls lived . . .

I was told by my beloved father that the best thing a mother and a woman could give any child is the gift of education and I believed it was my duty to fulfill my fathers dream and help as many Afghan girls and women as possible . . .

The threats I faced did not stop me from succeeding. In fact, they made me stronger.”

During the years she taught at her school, her husband and children were always a target for the Taliban. She was attacked by bombs but survived all incidents.

She said her life was not at all easy because she always left her house in fear that she may be attacked again. Her courage to keep her school, cost her the life of her son.

The Taliban kidnapped her son and in return demanded her to close the school and pay $20,000 for her son’s release. She received phone calls everyday threatening that her son would be killed but she did not accept the end to her school and didn’t have $20,000 to give for his release.

“My son was a hero, he was a handsome looking man who supported me in all I chose to do for the women of Afghanistan. He always encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing.”

After a month of his disappearance, his body was found in the gutter near her home in Laghman.

She said her life changed after the death of her son, “My heart was broken when I heard he had been found dead. I did not know what to do or who to turn to. My tears had dried because of my constant crying everyday for the month he was missing. I could only think of one thing. Revenge. And the only way I could have done that was to keep the school open and expand it in order to show my enemies that I was no longer worried or disturbed by their threats.”

After her talk the people who had attended asked her many questions, they were all stunned by her courage to see past her sons’ death and carry on with her school.

She was asked what she wanted the people in the West to do in order to help her, she said, “All I ask for is help. Although the troops are now leaving Afghanistan, I wish for the support to still be there, I want the people in the West to help us as much as possible and never to forget us and the conditions we are in.”

After the talk I approached her and invited her to the BBC, I wanted to show her around and introduce her to the BBC Afghan Service. She agreed and spent the day touring the BBC, after which we went out for a coffee and discussed the future of Afghanistan.

I asked her about the future of Afghanistan and if she thinks Afghanistan will be able to protect itself from evil without the help from the foreign troops, and she said, “I think the Afghan army can protect the people of Afghanistan, but only if they are provided with the right gear and the right training. Afghanistan is hungry for peace and its people will do anything and everything for a brighter future.”

Afghan females and a career in journalism

Women make up 1,500 of the Afghanistan’s 10,000 journalists. Threatened by the Taliban, risk of death, yet still they choose to work towards a career in journalism.

It is now clear to the world that life for women in Afghanistan was never easy, and the question that remains is, if it will ever be easy?

We can, without a doubt, say that females in Afghanistan dream of a career because after all, the women there are like any other woman in the world, with a dream. Afghanistan has seen a great interest of women working towards rebuilding the country.

There are now women politicians, drivers, teachers, doctors, singers, celebrities and businesswomen in Afghanistan. A huge improvement compared to the previous, dark, years of war.

Afghan Women are eager to take part in making Afghanistan a better place purely because of their passion and dreams to live a better life, and make the future brighter for their children and the future generations to come.

From my visits to Afghanistan, I have seen girls and boys going to school with a great interest in education. I recall waking up one morning and looking out of the window in my room, seeing children dressed in uniform heading towards school, Girls wearing white scarves and black dresses and the boys wearing blazers, shirts and trousers with polished shoes, cheerfully heading to school.

However, with the withdrawal of the troops and reduced aid to Afghanistan there is a very high risk of these gains and the achievements of Afghan women and men, which are already very fragile, to be reversed back as no one knows what the future holds for Afghanistan.

Fatimah, a young Afghan girl, aged 21, whom I met in Afghanistan, Jalalabad province, said that the Taliban are not the only reason that stops men and women from pursuing a career in journalism, but it is the lack of security in the country, and the unorganised policies in the countries laws.

She said, “I want a career in journalism, but the lack of security and the lack of protection for journalists in Afghanistan stops me. My family, especially my father is against my decision, he is not permitting me to work towards the career in journalism because he fears losing me.”

Palwasha Tokhi

On September 16th, young female journalist, known as Palwasha Tokhi, who worked for Bayan, a local radio in northern Balkh province, was killed inside her home.

Palwasha Tokhi studied and completed her Masters degree in Thailand, two months before she was killed.

She was taken to the Mazar-e-Sharif hospital after being stabbed by unknown men. Mohammad Khalil Tokhi, her father, said the men broke into their home when he was not there, stabbed Palwasha and then fled. Tokhi was the second radio journalist killed in Mazar-e-Sharif.

There were claims that Palwasha had been killed because she worked for the German military and it was thought she had links with them.

Tokhi’s former colleague said, “The insurgents tell people that those who work for the West are promoting Christianity in Afghanistan and are against Islam.”

Her murder is still a mystery and no one has found her killers. This raises the question, if the Afghan police/government are trying hard enough to bring those who commit crimes, such as killings of journalist, to justice.

http://www.dw.de/natos-afghan-employees-fear-for-their-lives/a-17933478

http://www.ifj.org/nc/news-single-view/backpid/1/article/female-journalist-brutally-murdered-in-afghanistan/

http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2013/02/15/afghanistan-the-most-dangerous-country-for-journalists-cpj.html

https://fascinatingmystery.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/saint-of-the-week-palwasha-tokhi/

Afghan female MP attacked in Kabul

A woman’s rights MP, Shukria Barekzai, attacked, survives bomb explosion that left three martyred.

Image taken from Khaama.com
Image taken from Khaama.com

On Sunday, 16th November, a bomb explosion in the capital city of Afghanistan, Kabul, took place aiming to kill a well-known female politician.

Shukria Barekzai was traveling in a convoy, which was struck by another vehicle causing a big explosion. Three people were left martyred one was a young girl. Seventeen people were left injured. Barekzai was urgently taken to hospital and only suffered minor injuries.

“Minister of interior met MP Barekzai she is fine and suffers small injuries. Reports of her family killed in this attack are not true.”

According to Al-Jazeera, Shinkay Karokhil, another female MP, told the AFP news agency: “The target was a convoy of MPs who were driving toward the parliament. Shukria Barekzai was affected by the attack but she is fine.”

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BBC Image of the attack on Sunday

Rumors were spread that Barekzai’s family were also injured but a spokesperson for the Afghan ministry of interior affairs took to twitter to confirm that she was fine and none of her family members were harmed. He tweeted, “Minister of interior met MP Barekzai she is fine and suffers small injuries. Reports of her family killed in this attack are not true.”

The 42-year-old female politician has said she received many threats. Shukria Barekzai is known across Afghanistan for her work toward women’s rights and works closely with Ashraf Ghani.

During the Taliban years, Shukria Barekzai confessed to Reuters in one of her interviews in 2005 that she had run a secret school for girls during the Taliban’s rule. The Taliban forced tough restrictions on women for five years.

Reuters called Shukria Barekzai after the attacks, when she was in hospital, she told them, “I survived because of my people’s prayers.”

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-30073189

http://tribune.com.pk/story/792058/afghan-female-mp-survives-suicide-attack-3-dead-officials/

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia/2014/11/female-afghan-mp-survives-suicide-attack-2014111672142481131.html

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/11/16/uk-afghanistan-blast-idUKKCN0J005220141116

http://www.khaama.com/shukria-barakzai

La Galleria – Afghanistan- Before the Dawn

This video is from YouTube

On the 10th of November 2014, I attended an Afghanaids charity event, which took place at Pall Mall, La Galleria.

Welcomed by the loving staff, I was asked for my coat politely and offered a glass of fine wine, Champaign or a soft drink, with smiling faces. As soon as I walked in I felt as though Afghanistan had come to the city of London.

There were many different people, from different backgrounds, roaming around the room and looking at the beautifully painted pieces. Some of the guests were admiring the paintings while others were discussing them. I was caught by surprise, as I did not expect to see so many people at one event in attendance to see and hear about the Afghan culture.

The sound of the Afghan Rabab (famous Afghan instrument) played in the background; live by an Afghan artist on stage, placed in the corner of the Gallery, while guests had a chitchat with their glass of wine in their hands. The women were dressed elegantly and the men were all wearing suits and ties, it felt like a very important and posh event, almost like a business meeting.

I was originally there for the talk, which was going to take place by the famous foreign correspondent, Christina Lamb. She spoke about her experiences during her trips to Afghanistan. A very touching speech, which reminded me of the time I was in Afghanistan. I was proud of her interest in Afghanistan. Not only hers but everyone else who had attended.

Arabella Dorman is the artist behind the amazing paintings hung on the walls of La Galleria. She is a war artist who has visited Afghanistan on numerous occasions over the past five years. She visited the country to capture accurate human faces of the conflict there in her paintings; her aim was to show both the life of Afghan civilians and of the British forces. The exhibition is titled as ‘Before the Dawn’, which refers to the new start, change and insecurity because the Afghan army has been left to fight on their own; it also highlights the fears of each day.

The event was sponsored by Mirwais Alizai, a 32-year-old Afghan entrepreneur who spoke in the event and said that he sponsored this event for the love he has for Afghanistan, and also to raise as much awareness as possible.

Here are some images I took at the event:

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Is Afghanistan a safe place for journalist?

According to recent reports journalists are NOT safe in Afghanistan.

Afghan journalists live only to work for a brighter future for Afghanistan but also are in fear of their life due to the countries violent past.

Afghanistan is a country where its laws are hazy, with no energy or strength to keep its people protected. Reporting the truth is often met with the death or a violent attack on a journalist.

Most journalists who visit Afghanistan, work under very tough conditions and usually face violence, intimidations, and threats that stops them from carrying out their work.

Since the year 2001 to 2014, 477 men and 38 female journalists have been attacked either threatened, beaten, arrested, killed, kidnapped or injured in Afghanistan, according to Open Media.

The highest numbers of people were attacked in the Kabul Province. The uppermost attacks were in the year 2011, with 72 journalists involved. The top five organisations experiencing violence are Tolo TV, Aryana TV, Pajhwok, RTA and Al- Jazeera.

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afp.com

Sardar Ahmad, an Afghan AFP journalist was killed in Kabul when he was having a meal with his family at a five star hotel. Ahmad, 40, was shot dead along with his wife and two of his three children when four teenage gunmen attacked the hotel on a Thursday evening. The Taliban were responsible for the attacks.

The incident became a huge subject in Afghanistan, leading to the governments promise to bring his killers to justice.

His last tweet was a picture of dried fruits representing the celebration of the Persian New Year that he did not live to see.

Shortly after the incident of Sardar Ahmad, a gunman who was dressed as a police officer attacked two foreign journalists. Anja Niedringhaus and Kathy Gannon were traveling in a convoy of election workers delivering ballots from the center of Khost city to the outskirts, in Tani district. The Afghan National Army and Afghan police were escorting the convoy, and the journalists were in their own car with a freelancer and a driver.

When they were sitting in the car waiting for the convoy to move, a unit commander named Naqibullah walked up to the car, and yelled “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and opened fire on both the women with an AK-47, after which he surrendered to the police and was arrested.

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Image from the BBC (Right Anja and Left Kathy)

Anja Niedringhaus, a German War photographer, was killed and Kathy Gannon, a Canadian journalist was seriously injured according to the Huffington post.

All three incidents happened this year, the year in which Afghanistan should have been a safer place for journalists to be reporting from. These incidents are an example of how easy it is for journalists to be targeted in Afghanistan, despite its high volume of security.

This leaves us with the question of if Afghanistan is actually safe for journalists? Despite the help of the foreign troops, can we really guarantee safety to journalists within, and outside Afghanistan who intend to report from the country?

Reference:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/04/04/journalist-killed-afghani_n_5089569.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/21/sardar-ahmad-afghan-journalist-killed-taliban

http://time.com/33102/afp-reporter-sardar-ahmad-killed-in-kabul/

http://blogs.afp.com/correspondent/?post/Remembering-Sardar-Ahmad#.VFz4K_SsVjF

Child Brides

Child brides, an illegal act in the West, are very common in countries like Afghanistan, India, Yemen, Pakistan, Malawi, South Sudan, Kurdistan and many more.

Naghma, front right, 6, who will be married to a lender's 17-year-old son to pay her family's debt if her father cannot repay it.
http://bossip.com

In Afghanistan 57% of girls are married or promised to men twice their age. According to UNICEF more girls are forced into marriage than boys. The main cause of this is the cultural, political and economic opinions of the child’s family.

If the family comes from an educated background, rich and modern then it is less likely for them to get their children married at a young age, whereas the less educated, poor and lower class are more likely to get their daughters married for either in exchange for money to cover debts or to take away the burden of providing for them.

Becoming a child bride takes away freedom and education from young girls; this prevents the girls from developing skills to independently look after themselves. It is also physically very dangerous for the health of the child, as they are not developed enough or ready to give birth at a young age as it could result in emotional, mental and physical trauma to both the girl and her newborn child.

In cities like Herat, Kabul, Kapisa Province and Mazar-i-Sharif, shelter is provided to Afghan women forced into marriages. The help comes from groups such as ‘Voice of Women Organisation’ and ‘Women for Afghan Women’ including other groups that have emerged since, the fall of the Taliban.

The case of 6-year-old Naghma

There have been countless reports on young Afghan brides. The most recent one was of a six year old girl married to cover her father’s debts. Naghma’s father had no other way to pay back his debts but to sell his daughter.

Naghma’s family fled Helmand Province during the War in Afghanistan. Taj Mohammad, Naghmas father, took nine of his children and wife to stay at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul, in pursue of a better life. They faced many difficulties. The family suffered in the winter, which lead to the death of Naghmas three-year-old brother who froze to death and her mother fell ill.

Taj Mohammad borrowed $2,500 in order to pay for his wife’s medical bills and other family costs. He could not repay the debt, so he was left with no choice but to Marry off Naghma to the lenders 19-year-old son.

“It was a difficult decision. Everyone gives away their child but to give Naghma away like that was just so hard.” Said Taj Mohammad (CNN).

Human rights groups then found out about Naghma’s story and were outraged so they contacted a U.S lawyer, Kimberley Motley, a former beauty queen who had been working in Afghanistan for five years.

Kimberley Motley contacted people who could help, and arranged a ‘Jirga’, which is a gathering, attended by Afghan elders. Kimberley was successful at saving Naghma as a decision was made to get her out of the marriage.

Taj Mohammad was very sad to come to a decision of getting his child married. According to CNN he said, “When I couldn’t pay my debt I felt like I’d been thrown into the fire and then someone rescued me.”

Naghma is now 7 and at school. Kimberly said, “I’m certainly very happy that Naghma did not have to be married off at the age of 6, so I’m pleased with that, But I’d like to make sure she gets an education and becomes successful.” (CNN)

Reference:

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/afghan-girl-saved-child-marriage-dad-pay-family-medical-debt-article-1.1751147

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wayne-nelson/theres-more-to-naghmas-story_b_2994386.html

http://libertyunyielding.com/2014/04/10/6-year-old-afghan-girl-condemned-marriage-pay-debt/

http://www.opposingviews.com/i/religion/6-year-old-afghan-girl-saved-marriage-pay-debt

http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/afghanistan_statistics.html