A trailblazing Afghan female journalist has fled the country: 'Like millions of people, I fear the Taliban'

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A trailblazing Afghan female journalist has fled the country: 'Like millions of people, I fear the Taliban'
FILE PHOTO: A cameraman films a news anchor at Tolo News studio, in Kabul, Afghanistan October 18, 2015. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
  • Beheshta Arghand, a trailblazing female Afghan journalist, left the country for fear of the Taliban.
  • Arghand was the first female presenter to conduct a live in-studio interview with a Taliban member.
  • Women in public-facing roles face increasing threats and danger amid the Taliban takeover.

A trailblazing Afghan television presenter has left the country for fear of the Taliban.

Beheshta Arghand, a 24-year-old presenter at the independent outlet TOLO News, made waves as the first female TV host to conduct a live sit-down interview with a Taliban leader on August 17, shortly after the US-backed Afghan government fell and the Taliban swiftly took over Afghanistan.

"I left the country because, like millions of people, I fear the Taliban," Arghand told CNN on Sunday, adding that she and her family were able to evacuate on a Qatari air force plane with the help of the activist Malala Yousafzai.

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The Taliban, despite their public commitments to allowing women in public life and their efforts to show moderation since they last controlled Afghanistan 20 years ago, have a track record of hostility to a free press and to women in public-facing roles.

The group has ramped up its attacks on the media in recent months, and its retaking of Afghanistan is already rolling back two decades of progress on press freedom and women's equality in the country.

"I told myself, 'One of us must start ... If we stay in our houses or don't go to our offices, they will say the ladies don't want to work,' but I said to myself, 'Start working,'" Arghand told CNN of her decision to sit down with a Taliban member. "And I said to the Taliban member, 'We want our rights. We want to work. We want - we must - be in society. This is our right.'"

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Two female presenters at the state-run Radio Television Afghanistan told the Committee to Protect Journalists earlier this month that they showed up to work to find they'd been replaced by men. They said the station's new Taliban leadership ordered them to go home.

The crackdown on women in public life has had a chilling effect on women working for independent news stations like TOLO.

"Almost all our well known reporters and journalists have left," the station's owner, Saad Mohseni, told CNN on Sunday, adding that he'd "been working like crazy to replace them with new people."

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Female journalists in Afghanistan also face threats from ISIS-K, the region's Islamic State affiliate and a Taliban rival. The group carried out the bombing at Kabul's international airport on Thursday that killed 13 US service members and nearly 200 civilians.

Three young women were gunned down outside the television station where they worked in Jalalabad in March; ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attack. The targeted killings followed the assassination of Malalai Maiwand, a TV journalist, outside the same station in December.

Arghand said she hoped to one day return to Afghanistan if the Taliban upholds its commitments to women's rights.

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"If the Taliban do what they said - what they promised - and the situation becomes better, and I know I am safe and there is no threat for me, I will go back to my country and I will work for my country. For my people," she said.

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