Two years after Taliban takeover, Afghan journalists face limbo in Pakistan

Taliban soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 6, 2023. (REUTERS)
Taliban soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 6, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Updated 08 July 2023
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Two years after Taliban takeover, Afghan journalists face limbo in Pakistan

Taliban soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 6, 2023. (REUTERS)
  • Afghan journalist forum says 250 are waiting in Pakistan for visas to Europe, US
  • Islamabad police deny reports of harassment, extortion over expired stay permits

ISLAMABAD: Hundreds of Afghan journalists fled to Pakistan in 2021, desperate to escape Taliban rule and hoping for a secure future.

However, two years on, many say they have fallen into limbo, waiting for visas to countries that had previously employed them, and facing routine police harassment and official indifference.

The withdrawal of US-led forces and Taliban takeover of Afghanistan sparked an exodus of at least 600,000 Afghans into neighboring Pakistan, many crossing by land on hopes or promises of relocation to the West.

Pakistan-Afghan International Forum of Journalists data shows that among them were at least 650 media workers who fled, fearing persecution as their country’s new administration cracked down on the press.

Those who had worked for Western organizations during the 20-year US-led military campaign against the Taliban were sure they would still be employed by them when the Washington-backed government in Kabul collapsed in August 2001.

About 400 journalists have made it to different countries, including the US, Germany and France, but the rest have been stuck, with their travel documents expiring.

“The remaining 250 are still in Pakistan and struggling to get visas of the US and different European countries for their onward travel from Pakistan,” Hashmat Vejdani, the Afghan journalist forum’s spokesperson, told Arab News on Thursday.

“The US specifically promised all journalists who worked with them during the war to issue them visas in 18 months. The applications of almost all of them have been in process in the (respective) embassies.”

Vejdani said the forum has been raising the issue of delays with Western diplomatic missions in Islamabad and each time has been asked to be patient while applications are being processed.

But patience is not easy for those who, like Tahir Sadid, entered Pakistan over a year ago.

His visa expired in March and last month he was detained by police in Islamabad, only to be released on personal bail.

Sadid said he had no choice when he left Afghanistan and for a year has been getting by with financial assistance from friends in Europe as his visa applications are pending not only with Pakistani but also German authorities.

“I have applied for the visa extension, but am still waiting to hear back from the (Pakistani) government,” he said.

“My parents were satisfied that I am safe in Pakistan, but the security personnel have started targeting us here, too. They are living in hell there while I am struggling here to get the visa for Germany.”

The persecution that he feared at home is now a reality in the place where he sought safety.

“The local police treat us like illegal migrants to Pakistan, and harass us to extort money,” he said.

“We fled Afghanistan risking our lives, hoping we will be safe in Pakistan, but the police here have been harassing and intimidating us.”

Another Afghan journalist has been living in Islamabad for the past 14 months, unable to legalize his stay.

“My Pakistani visa expired eight months ago, and I immediately applied for an extension, but there is still no response from authorities,” he told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

The journalist is also waiting to hear back from the US Embassy about his visa application.

“We fled restrictions on press freedom and lawlessness in Afghanistan, hoping to find a better place to survive,” he said, adding that for the past two months he and his friends have been facing harassment from police.

After complaining, the Pakistan-Afghan International Forum of Journalists has sought help from Pakistani authorities.

“Afghan journalists have entered Pakistan on valid visas, and they don’t pose any threat to Pakistan’s politics or security in any way, so their visas should be extended at the earliest,” Vejdani said.

“We wrote separate letters to Ministry of Interior and Foreign Office highlighting the issues some three weeks ago, but have received no response from them so far.”

While the foreign office was unavailable for comment, despite requests, police denied the allegations of abuse.

“It is the police’s job to act against those living in the country illegally, but we strongly deny the charge of any harassment,” Islamabad Police spokesperson Taqi Jawad told Arab News.

“Police detained a couple of Afghan journalists last month for not having valid visas, but let them go on a personal surety bond.”

The UN refugee agency UNHCR can only offer sympathy, in line with its advisory calling for a ban on forced returns of Afghan nationals, regardless of their legal status.

“We remain steadfast in our efforts to uphold the right to seek asylum and are in dialogue with the government of Pakistan to identify a way forward on the registration and documentation of asylum-seekers from Afghanistan,” Qaiser Khan Afridi, UNHCR spokesperson in Pakistan, told Arab News.  

“We firmly believe that with the continuous engagement and support of the Government of Pakistan, the current challenges will be addressed.”

 


CNN rules for first US presidential debate: no props, muted microphones

CNN rules for first US presidential debate: no props, muted microphones
Updated 16 June 2024
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CNN rules for first US presidential debate: no props, muted microphones

CNN rules for first US presidential debate: no props, muted microphones
  • CNN said candidates eligible to participate must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold needed to win and receive at least 15 percent in four separate national polls

WASHINGTON: The first US presidential debate between incumbent Joe Biden and Republican rival Donald Trump on June 27 will include two commercial breaks, no props and muted microphones except when recognized to speak, CNN said Saturday. In May, the candidates agreed to face off in two debates including one this month that will be moderated by CNN anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash in Atlanta, while the other on Sept. 10 will be hosted by ABC.
CNN said Saturday both candidates will appear at a uniform podium during the 90-minute debate, podium positions will be determined by a coin flip and candidates will be given a pen, a pad of paper and a bottle of water but cannot use props.
“Microphones will be muted throughout the debate except for the candidate whose turn it is to speak,” CNN said.
CNN, a division of Warner Bros Discovery, said the moderators “will use all tools at their disposal to enforce timing and ensure a civilized discussion.”
During the two commercial breaks, campaign staff may not interact with their candidate, and there will be no studio audience.
CNN said candidates eligible to participate must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold needed to win and receive at least 15 percent in four separate national polls. CNN said it is “not impossible” Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is running as an independent, could qualify, saying he has received at least 15 percent in three qualifying polls to date and has qualified for the ballot in six states, making him eligible for 89 electoral college votes.
Debates, which will draw a US live television audience in the tens of millions, are fraught with risks for both candidates, who face a close race. Biden has three preferred debate topics, according to a campaign memo viewed by Reuters: abortion rights, the state of democracy and the economy.
Trump refused to debate his rivals during the Republican nominating race. His team has pointed to immigration, public safety and inflation as key issues ahead of the debate.

 


Indonesia minister threatens to shut down X over adult content

Indonesia minister threatens to shut down X over adult content
Updated 14 June 2024
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Indonesia minister threatens to shut down X over adult content

Indonesia minister threatens to shut down X over adult content
  • X has recently updated its policies to permit consensually produced adult content
  • Minister Budi Arie Setiadi said it had sent a letter to X to demand revision of policy

JAKARTA: Indonesia is prepared to shut down social media platform X if it does not comply with a regulation barring adult content, the country’s communications minister said on Friday.
Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, has strict rules that ban the sharing online of content deemed obscene.
Minister Budi Arie Setiadi told Reuters he had sent a warning letter to X related to this matter.
“We will certainly shut its services down,” he said, pointing to Indonesia’s electronic information and transaction (ITE) law that can carry a six-year jail sentence if someone spreads pornographic content.
His comments in an interview come after the social media platform recently updated its policies to permit consensually produced adult content.
X, owned by billionaire Elon Musk, has not responded to Indonesia’s warning letter, Budi said, adding the government would send more letters before deciding on a potential closure.
X, formerly known as Twitter, did not immediately respond to a request by Reuters for comment.
Indonesians are big users of social media and X has 24.85 million users in the country, according to data gathering business Statista.


New ‘Million Dollar Island’ seasons to be produced at NEOM

New ‘Million Dollar Island’ seasons to be produced at NEOM
Updated 14 June 2024
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New ‘Million Dollar Island’ seasons to be produced at NEOM

New ‘Million Dollar Island’ seasons to be produced at NEOM
  • Talpa Studios recommissions hit reality show for MBC in the Middle East, NET5 in the Netherlands

DUBAI: Talpa Studios, which was founded by John de Mol, the creator of popular shows “The Voice” and “Big Brother,” has recommissioned its reality show “Million Dollar Island” for new seasons in the Middle East and the Netherlands.

The new seasons — titled “Million Dollar Land” or “Ard Al-Million” for MBC in the Middle East and “Million Dollar Desert” for NET5 in the Netherlands  — will be produced at Saudi Arabia’s NEOM production hub, in collaboration with regional production house Blue Engine Studios.

This will be the second season of “Ard Al-Million.” The first season aired on MBC Group’s TV channels MBC1, MBC IRAQ, and Shahid last May.

Produced by Monday Media, “Million Dollar Island” also ran for two seasons in the Netherlands. The new season, however, marks a shift to the desert-oriented format and will be shot at NEOM.

Blue Engine Studios played a key role in facilitating the deal between Talpa Studios and NEOM’s media sector and aims to bring more countries to NEOM’s production hub.

Its work on the Dutch edition included facilitating Monday Media’s production of the latest season, such as sourcing suppliers, permits and equipment as part of the studio’s commitment to establish a hub for the show at NEOM.

Ziad Kebbi, CEO at Blue Engine Studios, said that the “collaboration with NEOM and Talpa Studios underscores our commitment to producing high-quality entertainment that resonates with audiences.”

Unlike previous seasons, which featured 100 contestants, the new seasons will see 30 contestants test their endurance as they navigate the challenges of life in the desert.

There will be other changes to the format revealed when the new seasons go on air.

“These spin-offs preserve “the core principles that have made the original so compelling, while introducing innovative new elements that are perfectly suited to NEOM’s stunning desert scenery,” said Sebastian van Barneveld, director of international distribution at Talpa Studios.

Partnerships such as these ensure “a robust pipeline of productions and afford opportunities to accelerate our media ecosystem while training the next generation of talent,” said Wayne Borg, managing director of NEOM Media Industries.

The broadcast date of the new seasons is yet to be announced. “Ard Al-Million” will air on MBC1 and Shahid.


Al Habtoor scraps plans for Beirut-based TV channel over ‘severe security challenges’

Al Habtoor scraps plans for Beirut-based TV channel over ‘severe security challenges’
Updated 13 June 2024
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Al Habtoor scraps plans for Beirut-based TV channel over ‘severe security challenges’

Al Habtoor scraps plans for Beirut-based TV channel over ‘severe security challenges’
  • The Emirati company says it was targeted by ‘orchestrated campaigns including accusations, slander and threats’ against staff
  • ‘We have encountered insurmountable obstacles that exceed what can reasonably be borne regarding the safety and security of our team,’ says boss Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor

LONDON: Emirati business Al Habtoor Group has abandoned its plans to launch a TV channel in Beirut due to what it described as “severe security challenges,” including physical threats against the company and its employees.

“Following the project announcement, the group encountered a barrage of orchestrated campaigns including accusations, slander, and threats,” the company said.

Those responsible have not been identified but the group said it has filed criminal and civil complaints in Lebanon. It thanked the Lebanese minister of information, Ziad Makary, for his support.

Chairperson Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor confirmed on Tuesday that the launch of the TV channel, which would have focused on cultural, social and sporting content, had been canceled.

“We have encountered insurmountable obstacles that exceed what can reasonably be borne regarding the safety and security of our team,” he said.

“We find ourselves compelled to seek an alternative to launching the project from Lebanon.”

The company, which is based in Dubai, said it is considering alternative locations in “countries that offer a more stable and secure environment supportive of such initiatives.”

The group’s businesses operate in various sectors, including construction, real estate and hospitality in the Middle East, Europe and the US.

It said the aim of the new TV channel was to “spread positivity, success and good stories” from Lebanon. It was expected to create about 300 jobs and the plans included construction of a 100,000-square-meter studio city.

“Our goal has always been to support the Lebanese people and provide content that inspires hope and positivity,” the company said.

“The current situation has left us no choice but to step back from this initiative and abandon the launch of our television station from Lebanon.”


Photojournalist Mohammed Salem discusses award-winning shot  ‘A Palestinian Woman Embraces the Body of Her Niece’

Photojournalist Mohammed Salem discusses award-winning shot  ‘A Palestinian Woman Embraces the Body of Her Niece’
Updated 13 June 2024
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Photojournalist Mohammed Salem discusses award-winning shot  ‘A Palestinian Woman Embraces the Body of Her Niece’

Photojournalist Mohammed Salem discusses award-winning shot  ‘A Palestinian Woman Embraces the Body of Her Niece’

DUBAI: The photojournalist discusses the photograph that won him the 2024 World Press Photo of the Year Award.

I was born in Gaza and have been working in journalism for 20 years. Like my three brothers, I’ve loved photography ever since I was little, and it was my dream to become a photographer. At times like this, photography allows us to share our message with the world. It allows people to see us and what is happening to us. 

I regard this ongoing war on Gaza as something we have never seen before. I cannot imagine anything more difficult happening to us. It has left nothing untouched — not a rock, not a tree, not a human, not a child. The difficulties that we have endured are unimaginable.  

I was working when I was informed that my brother — my support system — had been martyred. Most of my cousins were martyred too, and my siblings’ homes were destroyed. Death was so close to us.  

This photograph was taken at the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. I was actually living in the hospital, because I had been displaced. Wrapped in white cloth, the killed child that you see is being embraced by her aunt. She came to the hospital to see who was alive from her family. There was a lot of blood on the floor and she was running around in a maddened way. When she found the child, she carried her to the corner of a room and embraced her tightly. I have never such as a strong embrace before. It felt like true love — just the two of them.  

Many violent pictures have come out of Gaza, but a picture like this enters people’s hearts. You look at it and your heart aches. The award came at a moment of sadness: I was not happy, because there was no time for happiness given the environment I am in. But my biggest joy is that this image reached people around the world.