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Filmmaker Hassan Fazili Flees Afghanistan in search of a Home where he can speak freely after Taliban threatened him with Death over one of his Movies

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In 2014, despite decades of conflict in Afghanistan, and several recent militant attacks, the country's capital was home to a vibrant youth scene of musicians, artists, athletes and activists. Hassan Fazili opened a cafe for artists and filmmakers, but threats from the Taliban forced him to shut it down. -VOA

Filmmaker Hassan Fazili fled Afghanistan last year in search of a home where he could speak freely. After, the Taliban threatened him with death over one of his movies.

But Fazili, who moved to Serbia, will nevertheless be voiceless at a German film festival next week, when his work will be screened but he cannot attend because of his refugee status.

The Censored Women’s Film Festival, opening Monday in Berlin, plans to show his short fiction film, “Mr. Fazili’s Wife,” a 10-minute drama about a single mother who fights expectations that she will become a prostitute.

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It is a rarely expressed critique by an Afghan man on patriarchy in Afghanistan.

Women’s issues

Fazili, 37, said he began making movies about women’s rights a decade ago after marrying his wife, Fatima, who in Afghanistan’s conservative society had been prevented from going to school.

“I must do something to raise up this issue to the world,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation Friday from Belgrade, speaking Farsi through an interpreter.

He took up filmmaking and also taught his wife, who has become a filmmaker in her own right, he said. He opened Kabul’s Art Cafe and Restaurant, hoping to provide space for men and women to meet and discuss art and politics openly.

But in 2014, police and religious authorities began a crackdown that forced him to close the cafe. At the same time, the Taliban criticized his latest film, “Peace in Afghanistan,” and the death threats started.

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“I received phone calls saying that they will kill me making movies like this,” he said.

From Afghanistan to Serbia

While living in Afghanistan, Fazili said he was forced to turn down invitations to show his films in the United States and Britain because of visa restrictions.

He had hoped this time would be different.

“It was really important for me to be there, to know what people get from this movie,” he said.

Fazili is one of about 6,400 migrants from Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan in Serbia, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

They have been stranded in the Balkan country since border closings prevent them from moving further into Europe. Film festival organizers said they have petitioned UNHCR to allow Fazili to make the trip.

“We are desperate for Hassan to come to Berlin and share his story,” said Paula Kewskin, a festival spokeswoman.

Serbian authorities could not be reached for comment.

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Not part of the conversation

But Fazili said he is resigned to missing the opportunity to present his work to an international audience. His regret is that now, freed from persecution and bent on making women’s rights heard, he still is not part of the conversation, he said.

“They might have questions about the movie and, as a director, I’m supposed to answer the questions,” he said. “But we can’t do much from here.” (VOA)

 

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Taliban Seeking Recognition of Qatar Office Ahead of Fresh Talks With US

No government envoys attended the Moscow meeting because the Taliban refuses to talk to Afghan officials.

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Taliban, Qatar
FILE - In this photo released by the Afghan Presidential Palace, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, center, speaks to U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, third left, at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

The Taliban says it hopes ongoing negotiations with the United States would bring a long-demanded formal recognition for the insurgent group’s “political office” in Qatar, insisting it would help accelerate consultations over the endgame in the Afghan war.

The Taliban has been informally running the office in Doha, the Qatari capital, since 2013, but the host country has not allowed it to use the facility for any public dealings under objections from the Afghan government.

U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and his team in recent months have held several meetings with Taliban envoys mostly in Doha. The two sides are set to meet there again on Feb. 25 to build on “significant progress” they made in six days of marathon talks in January.

Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, in an interview told VOA that all their meetings with U.S. interlocutors and other foreign delegations take place in different hotels, making it difficult for his group to timely share details or progress with media.

Taliban, Qatar
FILE – Suhail Shaheen, then-deputy ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, gives an interview in Islamabad, Pakistan, Nov. 14, 2001. VOA

“We have raised this issue the U.S. delegation,” he said.

Shaheen noted that the Taliban last week held its first formal “intra-Afghan” dialogue in Moscow with a large group of prominent opposition leaders from Afghanistan, and a follow-up meeting of those consultations is scheduled for next month in Doha.

“The delegation from Afghanistan, of course, would come to the office (if it is recognized) and we will have a meeting with them and exchange views about the current peace process and how the Afghan issue can be resolved,” he observed.

No government envoys attended the Moscow meeting because the Taliban refuses to talk to Afghan officials, declaring the Kabul administration an illegal entity or American “puppets.” The rigid insurgent stance has also forced the U.S. to exclude President Ashraf Ghani from the dialogue process.

Ghani slammed the gathering in the Russian capital as an unauthorized dialogue and an attempt by his political opponents to gain power.

On Monday, Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, while addressing a weekly meeting of cabinet ministers, blamed “stubbornness of the Taliban” for being the main and only reason behind the war. He criticized the insurgent group for indulging in “propaganda” instead of joining “real talks” with the government. He did not elaborate.

Taliban, Qatar
FILE – Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Feb. 4, 2019. VOA

Abdullah’s remarks came a day after President Ghani made an offer to the Taliban to open an office in Afghanistan for conducting talks with his government.

Shaheen dismissed the offer and criticism as an attempt to “harm and derail” the current peace process. “Afghanistan is our own country and we don’t need permission from anyone to open an office there. By making such offers at this stage, they [Ghani government] are trying to harm the peace efforts,” Shaheen said.

The Taliban controls or influences nearly half of Afghanistan, but its leaders and fighters remain under attack from U.S.-backed Afghan ground and air forces. The insurgent group is opposed to ceasing its battlefield attacks until all foreign forces withdraw from the country.

Khalilzad, while delivering a public talk in Washington last week, said that after many conversations, the U.S. has reached “an agreement in principle” with the Taliban on a framework that would provide guarantees that no terrorist group or individuals would be able to use Afghan soil for attacks against the U.S. and its allies.

“Similarly, we have agreed in principle on a framework for possible U.S. [troop] withdrawal as part of a package deal,” he noted.

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Taliban spokesman Shaheen said that both sides also agreed to appoint two working groups to flesh out these undertakings and bring them to the table for the meeting scheduled for this month in Doha. He anticipated further progress in the upcoming round of talks and vowed to again raise with U.S. delegates the issue of granting formal recognition to the Taliban’s office, because his group is determined to carry forward Afghan peace talks in Doha.

There was no U.S. response available to the Taliban’s demand. (VOA)