When the Taliban forces retook Afghanistan in August 2021, thousands fled the country in fear for their lives. Among them were hundreds of journalists and their families, likely targets for the arrests and reprisals that followed.
The Taliban have a history of killing and torturing reporters in Afghanistan. After their most recent return to power, they arrested many Afghan nationals and some foreign journalists while closing independent media outlets around the country.
Now, the Canadian non-profit Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) is helping to give these Afghan refugee journalists a second chance through a residence program that finds them jobs in Canadian media.
I am one of them. Through the JHR program, I have been given the opportunity to join Canada's National Observer as a reporter in Toronto. It is a great introduction to the inner workings of national media and an opportunity for me to be part of the diverse voice of Canadian media.
When the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan, opportunities for journalists and independent media closed, forcing hundreds of journalists including myself to flee for our lives. It is important for us to get our voices back in the media and continue our work.
Being a journalist was my dream when I was a child, and I had the opportunity to start working with the media a few years after the fall of the Taliban, in 2002.
I have worked with local, national and international media for the past 20 years and completed a master’s in journalism at the University of Hong Kong.
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Despite many challenges and threats, the two decades were a golden era for Afghan journalists and independent media. However, the Taliban has effectively crushed the free press in Afghanistan, scattering former journalists to safe countries overseas.
“I’m extremely happy with the program, and it’s such a vital initiative,” said Ehsanullah Amiri, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who fled Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. “To me, it opened the door for Canadian media — a crucial chance for exchange of my years of experience in a war-torn country (with) modernity and updated knowledge in journalism (from the) Canadian media community.”
As part of the JHR Afghan Journalists in Residence program, Amiri was offered a position with the Toronto Star, where he works today.
Amiri is just one of hundreds assisted by the organization. Since August 2021, JHR has helped evacuate and support more than 300 Afghan journalists, media professionals and their families. These placements are just a part of that overall effort and underscore the valuable contributions of Afghan professionals to Canadian media.
“The arrival of Afghan journalists in Canada represents a huge opportunity for newsrooms to integrate diverse skills and perspectives in their workforce,” said Rachel Pulfer, executive director of Journalists for Human Rights, in a statement on the JHR website.
Pulfer says JHR is pleased to support Afghan journalists in continuing their careers in Canada and ensuring their vital voices are heard, according to the statement.
Ten additional Afghan journalists and media professionals will be offered paid placements in leading Canadian newsrooms such as CTV News, the Toronto Star, the Canadian Press, the Globe and Mail and Global News, according to the organization.
This program has been funded by Meta, the parent company of Facebook.
JHR program manager Hoda Ossoble said inclusion is a primary mission of the 20-year-old organization.
“This includes BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) journalists,” she said, “as well as immigrant journalists and journalists working in exile, and the ultimate goal is to increase the number of diverse voices represented in Canadian media.
“It has not been difficult because JHR has been able to tap into a large and extensive community of journalists and human rights defenders from Afghanistan through our support of evacuation efforts to Canada,” Ossoble said.
Since 2002, JHR has been working around the world to train and engage local journalists, media outlets, civil society organizations and other relevant stakeholders to strengthen and improve human rights coverage in local contexts, according to the group’s mission statement on its website.
This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.
Good for JHR, good for the
Good for JHR, good for the MSM incorporating the real voices of ex-pat, asylum seeking people who are anxious to provide voices of legitimacy from the worlds "hot spots"; voices that are not filtered through the mindsets of privileged western elites. Now the publishers and editors of the MSM will have to figure out how to set those voices free - even if they speak unpalatable truths.