RSF urges Pakistani government not to deport Afghan journalists
More than 200 Afghan journalists are threatened with deportation from Pakistan following the expiry of interior minister Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti’s ultimatum calling on undocumented Afghan citizens to leave by 1 November. Sending these journalists back to Afghanistan would put their lives in danger, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF), urging the Pakistani authorities to let them stay in Pakistan and to guarantee their safety there.
The possibility of deportation terrifies the 200 or so Afghan journalists who fled to Pakistan. RSF has interviewed several of them, and they report an increase in violence against them since the government issued its expulsion threat. They have been subjected to harassment and extortion by Pakistani police officers, arbitrary arrest, pressure on landlords to expel Afghan tenants, and never-ending visa application procedures. And now the threat of being sent back to Afghanistan.
“Forcibly returning Afghan journalists who have fled to Pakistan would be a flagrant violation of international law and completely unacceptable. These journalists, some of whom published sensitive information, were often the subject of threats and sought refuge in Pakistan to save their lives. Deporting them back to Afghanistan would clearly expose them to great danger. We call on the Pakistani government to refrain from arresting any of them and to guarantee their protection and security in Pakistan.
“A forced return to Afghanistan would be tantamount to sending us to the slaughterhouse,” said an Afghan journalist who fled to Pakistan in September 2022 and who asked not to be identified for safety reasons. A fixer in Afghanistan for many foreign media, he fled after being threatened by the Taliban authorities because of reports broadcast by one of the foreign TV channels he worked for.
Although he has a temporary residence permit, he is being harassed by the Pakistani police and fears expulsion. “I am being prosecuted in my country on charges of spying for foreign media, sabotage and negative propaganda, as well as supporting women's rights. Death awaits me there.”
“I had to leave my country in order to stay alive”
Another journalist, who also requested anonymity, told RSF he had to flee to Pakistan in July 2022 after covering stories involving Taliban violence, particularly against women. He had been warned at the last minute that an armed group linked to Taliban government was planning to kill him. “I had to leave my country to stay alive,” he said. “After leaving, the regime arrested several members of my family. If I go back there, I will risk death.”
A third journalist reported that he was arrested and tortured twice in Afghanistan after Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021. “In January 2022, my former torturers located my new home and inflicted serious injuries to my head and neck,” he said. He finally managed to escape to Pakistan in March 2022 after spending several weeks in hiding. But now he is traumatised. “If the Pakistani police deport me, my life will be in great danger,” he said.
A journalist based in northern Afghanistan who fled to Pakistan in June 2022 after being threatened and arrested several times in connection with his work for a foreign TV channel told RSF that he had already been the victim of the growing harassment of undocumented Afghans a year after his arrival, when Pakistani intelligence officials detained him for five hours and searched his phone and emails.
His daily existence is now becoming more and more unbearable, he told RSF. He no longer dares to leave his home, his two children cannot go to school, his wife is showing increasing signs of psychological stress, and the owner of the building where they are living recently told them they have to leave.
“I implore the countries that are known to take refugees to provide their help now to those of us who are in danger. I ask them to take action and to rescue us. In my country, I risk being killed. There is only a short time left before the actual expulsion of undocumented Afghans begins.”