NPR’s Ailsa Chang speaks with Steven Butler of the Committee to Protect Journalists about his organization’s efforts to help evacuate Afghan journalists.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
At a press conference after the Taliban took over Kabul, a longtime spokesman for the group, Zabiullah Mujahid, said that the Taliban are, quote, “committed to the media within our cultural frameworks” and that the media, quote, “can continue to be free and independent.” Well, many Afghan journalists are not waiting to find out what that could actually mean.
NPR spoke with one Afghan journalist. We are only using his family name, Amiri (ph), for his safety. Amiri applied for a U.S. Special Immigrant Visa five years ago, but he has faced constant delays since and is now desperate to find a way out for himself and his family.
AMIRI: I’m just here in Kabul now for a hope to flee this country and go to have a peaceful life as a human being.
CHANG: The Committee to Protect Journalists has been fielding calls for help from Afghan journalists who are terrified of Taliban control. Steven Butler is the organization’s Asia program coordinator. He joins us now. Welcome.
STEVEN BUTLER: Thank you.
CHANG: So I know that you have said that hundreds and hundreds of Afghan journalists are contacting you right now. What are the main fears that they are citing at the moment as they’re trying to leave the country? What common concerns are you hearing?
BUTLER: Well, many journalists are afraid they’re going to be killed. Many of them have a record of critical coverage of what the Taliban did. Some of them have received calls from the Taliban. They’ve had visits at home. Some have run out the back door and been shot at. There’s a very real fear because the Taliban has this long history of extreme brutality. No matter what the leadership is saying now, you know, people are feeling that pressure and feeling that fear. It’s intense.
CHANG: For those journalists who do want to evacuate, can you explain how the Committee to Protect Journalists – how your organization can specifically help those people?
BUTLER: Every day we’re getting hundreds of new emails, principally to our emergencies box. And what we do is one by one, we are documenting their situation, and we try to assess how acute the threat is. And then we’re dividing the cases into those that we think are urgent, and then we are presenting that information to the U.S. government.
CHANG: And when you have been determining the priority among the journalists you think should evacuate immediately from Afghanistan, can you talk about the factors that you’re considering to determine that priority?
BUTLER: Yes. It’s based on objective reporting, but the evaluation itself is going to be slightly subjective. I’ll give you an example. There’s a very prominent woman journalist who works in the radio field. And she’s won all kinds of awards. You know, she’s the head of an organization there. Soon after the Taliban came in, she actually got a phone call and said, you know, your time is up. That’s a direct threat, and we consider that a very high priority.
CHANG: The journalist that we heard at the beginning of this conversation – he applied to the Special Immigrant Visa program back in 2016. And despite having worked with the U.S. and allied forces, he still has not gotten a visa. Are you seeing many other Afghan journalists in the same boat?
BUTLER: You know, essentially yes, although it’s hard 100% to see under the hood of what’s going on here. Certainly, we wish the U.S. government were moving much more quickly. I will say that because of the embarrassment the government is suffering over what’s happening in Afghanistan, we hope that that’s going to be a motivation so they can get it right this time, that they can actually, you know, see this through and not be further embarrassed by the potential for human tragedy if they don’t get this right.
CHANG: Are you hopeful, ultimately, Steven, that most of the people that your organization is trying to help evacuate from Afghanistan – that they will eventually get out or do you think that many of them will simply have to remain in the country and face an uncertain future under the Taliban?
BUTLER: I would love it if all of them who really should get out can get out. But I’m more optimistic that we’ll be able to get, you know, a core group out.
CHANG: Steven Butler is with the Committee to Protect Journalists. Thank you very much for joining us today.
BUTLER: Thank you very much.
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