“Media coverage saved me,” says journalist Mortaza Behboudi held for nine months in Afghanistan
Mortaza Behboudi, a freelance journalist with French and Afghan dual nationality, described his nine months in Afghan prisons at a press conference at Reporters Without Borders (RSF) headquarters in Paris on 23 October, three days after returning to France.
Arrested by a Taliban intelligence agency in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on 7 January and held for a total of 284 days, Behboudi was finally freed on 18 October after a Kabul criminal court acquitted him on charges of spying, illegal support for foreigners and assisting border crossings. His release was the culmination of a campaign in his defence that RSF had waged alongside his family and colleagues ever since his arrest.
“I want to thank all the people who helped to get me out, Reporters Without Borders and all of its staff, who battled day and night, and above all my wife Aleksandra. A big thank-you to the support committee and to you, the media. Without you, I don’t imagine I would have stayed alive (...) After 20 difficult days of interrogations, the man questioning me at the Taliban central intelligence agency told me, ‘We’re not going to do anything to you (...) we can’t kill you, because you’re everywhere in the media
Behboudi described how he was arrested outside Kabul university on 7 January while interviewing women who are banned from studying. He was accused of spying and providing funding to the Afghan resistance. He was repeatedly interrogated during the months he was held by the Afghan intelligence agency. The conditions in which he was detained were extremely challenging, especially at Shash-Darak security prison in Kabul, where 1,200 political prisoners are held.
“I felt as though I’d been kidnapped,” Behboudi said. “There was no trial, nothing, no future. We were held in two or three-metre rooms, with 11 or 12 people in each one. Sometimes mixed with Islamic State members. I was harassed all the time. They used to hit me.”
At the end of July, Behboudi was finally transferred to Pul-e-Charkhi prison, where non-political prisoners are held. Judicial proceedings then began before a Kabul criminal court. To ensure his defence, RSF managed to engage two Afghan lawyers. On 18 October, the judges finally decided to release him. The international campaign waged by RSF and RSF’s communications with the Afghan authorities had borne fruit.
“The campaign waged for Mortaza Behboudi’s release was extraordinary. And the media coverage had a concrete impact. The media coverage and campaign sent crucial messages to the Taliban. Messages that made them recognise your status as a journalist, Mortaza, and showed them that you had the entire media profession behind you. But, as you point out, the fight does not stop there. Other Afghan journalists are still jailed and RSF is continuing its campaign for all the journalists