Afghan female journalist struggles for women ‘heroes’ from exile

By Thomson Reuters Aug 26, 2022 | 5:05 AM

By Fanny Brodersen and Alexander Ratz

BERLIN (Reuters) – It was when the Taliban came to arrest her and her brother in October that Fawzia Saidzada, an Afghan journalist and women’s rights activist, finally decided it was time to flee.

The 30-year-old managed to get out the next day after promising the Taliban she would inform on other journalists and activists – something she never did. Her brother was held for 15 days.

“When the Taliban came to power, we decided to fight against the Taliban,” said Saidzada, who is raising a 13-year-old son alone. “Our slogan was ‘either freedom or death’.”

But the episode taught her she would have to carry on her struggle for the rights of girls and women from abroad. She arrived in Berlin six weeks ago along with her son, mother, two brothers and one of the brother’s families.

“Afghan women are heroes,” she told Reuters TV. “Afghan women are courageous, they are fighters who have faced war in the past four decades but have not lost hope.”

Saidzada is one of thousands of Afghans who have settled in Germany since U.S. President Joe Biden ordered the withdrawal of the U.S.-led forces that for decades propped up the government in Kabul.

Within days, the Taliban had regained control, after fighting a 20-year insurgency in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed. Since then, they have curtailed the rights of women and girls.

Until Kabul’s fall, Saidzada was a prototype of the new Afghanistan’s free woman, studying first law then journalism before working as a journalist and commentator and running a human rights organisation.

The U.N. mission to Afghanistan says the Taliban is limiting dissent by arresting journalists, activists and protesters.

The Taliban government, some of whose top leaders are on U.S. wanted lists for suspected links to terrorism, has vowed to respect people’s rights according to its interpretation of Islamic law, and said it would investigate alleged abuses.

In Germany, Saidzada said she wants to set up an aid organization especially for young people in Afghanistan and maintains contacts with human rights defenders, women activists and former soldiers in her home country. And she wants to finish her master’s degree in international relations.

But the struggle will be a long one, since, she says, the Taliban have brought Islamist militants to Afghanistan from all over the world, and driven skilled doctors, lawyers and journalists from their jobs.

Even as she hastens to learn German and settle in, Saidzada has strong words of reproach for a country which, in coalition with the United States, first promised to save Afghanistan and then abandoned it. One day she would like to address the German parliament, she said.

“Why did you leave us alone?” Saidzada said she would ask lawmakers.

(Editing by Thomas Escritt, William Maclean)