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By- Ayesha Tanzeem
Farahnaz Forotan was at work in her Kabul office on Nov. 9, 2020, when the phone rang.
“Wherever you are, just stay put. Do not move around. Be extremely careful,” the caller told her.
For the next five days, the anchor for 1TV — one of Afghanistan’s leading stations — hid in a colleague’s house close to the newsroom, fearing that any moment could be her last.
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The catalyst for the threats was a photo of Forotan interviewing a Taliban spokesperson with her hair uncovered. The image quickly went viral. In broadcasts from Kabul, Forotan wore a headscarf as is customary in the Muslim-majority country. In her personal life or outside the country, less so.
“My encounter with Mr. Shahin filled me with terror. As he answered my questions, his eye rolled in every direction but mine, as if he saw me an embodiment of sine and evil. I felt unsafe even in a room full of people and thousands of miles away from Afghanistan.”@nytopinion pic.twitter.com/40XsfGpHzJ
— Farahnaz Forotan (@FForotan) April 25, 2021
Many defended her choice, but the threats mounted. This is when the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC), an independent organization in Kabul that monitors for threats and documents attacks on the media, stepped in to call Forotan about the danger. The photo of Forotan was taken in Qatar’s capital, Doha, in September, when she was covering inaugural peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. After many false starts and international maneuvers, a solution to decades of war beckoned.
But in the interim, feelings of hope have been tarnished by bloodshed. And on World Press Freedom Day 2021, Afghanistan may be one of the deadliest places on the planet for the media. Since the start of talks, at least five journalists and three media workers have been killed. Some were shot dead, and others were assassinated by sticky bombs attached to cars.
Half were women working for Enikass Radio and TV, an independent news and entertainment station in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, which has been a repeated target of one of the many militant groups that operate in Afghanistan. The victims join a long list of media worker killings; the AJSC counts at least 74 between 2013 and 2020.
The increase in violence and threats is having its intended effect. Dozens have left journalism and, in some cases, the country. The rest face a gut-wrenching decision: Self-censor or be the next victim. Under the United States’ presence since the 9/11 terror attacks of 2001, Afghanistan’s free press has developed into a vital force for civil debate and accountability. Now, with the planned September pullout of U.S. forces and the Taliban’s strengthened hand, many are questioning whether two decades of media progress could be quickly wiped out.
“We haven’t experienced such threats as now for a long time,” said Anisa Shaheed, a news anchor in Kabul for the popular TOLOnews.
‘Voice for the world’
Afghanistan has rarely been safe for journalists, thanks to persistent conflict, lawlessness, and myriad warlords and militant groups. Still, the country has come a long way from the 1990s, when the Taliban ruled under a brutal Islamist code and the only Afghan-produced news came from Voice of Sharia, a radio station under its control.
“When Taliban were in power, there was no media. Everyone at the time used to listen to the BBC Pashto language broadcast on radio,” Shakeela Ibrahimkhel, a prominent Afghan journalist, told VOA. Another journalist, who asked not to be named for security reasons, described it as “the dark age (when) no free press or media outlets were operating in the country.”
All that changed after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. A new constitution, formed in 2004, promised freedom of expression and the right to publish “without prior submission to state authorities.” It also enshrined equal rights for men and women — a significant shift from Taliban rule, under which women had been blocked from education, work, and politics.
This was a defining moment for Ibrahimkhel. “That’s when I realized no one in the world knew about our problems,” she said. Ibrahimkhel decided to become a journalist to be “a voice of our people to the world.” In 2004, she became one of the first female reporters to join Afghanistan’s first 24/7 news channel, TOLOnews. When she started, it was still rare for women to work. Out in the field, men would stare at her or yell profanities. Police would not cooperate. But Ibrahimkhel was undeterred.
As dozens of local channels in multiple local languages spread across the country, and with a U.S.-backed government that supported freedom of the press, life became easier. That freedom included a responsibility to hold authorities to account.
Afghanistan now has a thriving media scene. Around one-sixth of its population of 38 million are active on social media, and the country has more than 100 newspapers and 170 radio stations, according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Strong female voices in media have left an impact on younger generations.
Kabul anchor Shaheed, whom the newly established Free Speech Hub named its 2021 journalist of the year, says young girls look up to her and often say they want to be journalists, too. Shageed appeals to families, especially male relatives, to support the ambitions of these girls.
A Taliban attack
In perhaps the deadliest incident involving the country’s media, a double attack carried out by Islamic State group (IS) in 2018 killed nine journalists after a second bomber waited for media and first responders to arrive at the site of an initial blast before detonating his device.
In Ibrahimkhel’s case, a suicide bombing cut short her career with TOLOnews. She was working the late afternoon shift in the station’s Kabul office in January 2016 when a colleague ran over, telling Ibrahimkhel to prepare breaking news for TV. A suicide bomber had targeted a minivan, killing several people from the same company. As Ibrahimkhel started writing, another colleague ran over. The minivan was TOLO’s. The people killed — seven in all — were co-workers who had departed just minutes before.
The Taliban took responsibility and claimed Ibrahimkhel was among those killed. Desperate for information, her father started calling her co-workers, one of whom could confirm she was alive.
Realizing the country was no longer safe for her, Ibrahimkhel left for Europe.
The bombing happened as hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Afghans fleeing conflict were trying to make their way to Germany. Ibrahimkhel and her three teenage children joined them, making their way illegally on the boat, on foot, and in overstuffed cars from Turkey to Bulgaria, then Serbia, and on to Hungary.
Ibrahimkhel said she paid traffickers thousands of euros and crossed to Bulgaria on a rainswept night in a tiny boat carrying 14 people. She was scared for her children. She now lives in Frankfurt, where she freelances for public broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s Pashto and Dari language services. If circumstances were different, she never would have left.
“I still want to go back and work. Even from here, I am working for Afghanistan. But I am here to save my life,” Ibrahimkhel said. “I am a journalist but also a mother.”
A deadly game
Many in Afghanistan believe the recent attacks are designed to silence voices calling for the protection of human rights, civil liberties, and free speech in any political deal.
The Afghan government wants the protection of rights in the current constitution and an end to violence. The Taliban demand the immediate removal of foreign troops, the release of thousands of prisoners, and rule under their version of Islamic law. But it’s a deadly game, with journalists caught in between.
“If a journalist is killed, the whole social media landscape, and mainstream media, and even the international media, gets filled with that news,” said Najib Sharifi, director of the AJSC. The impact, he said, is “probably more valuable than killing a minister, if you look at it from the point of view of psychological warfare.”
The Afghan government and international community have condemned the attacks, blaming the Taliban. But the Taliban deny responsibility. Their spokesperson, Mohammad Naeem, told VOA that claims the Taliban are behind killings or threats are “far from the truth.”
Andrew Watkins is a senior analyst for Afghanistan at International Crisis Group, a nonprofit that focuses on preventing wars. He said the evidence “clearly points to the Taliban” in many cases. Although other groups are also involved, he said, “the scale and scope of attacks targeting journalists could only be carried out by a group with national reach and organization.”
And while the Taliban leadership says one thing, Taliban supporters on social media appear to relish the bloodshed. In one example, a Twitter user who posts pro-Taliban content tagged several media outlets in March with a post that read in Pashto: “Your pen is red with my blood, journalist. Your pen is blind to my screams, journalist.”
Although Kabul likes to blame them, the Taliban are not the only threat. The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), a regional branch of the IS, claimed responsibility for the attacks on Enikass Radio and TV.
Is Ghani serious?
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has described the killings as an “attack on freedom of speech and a crime against humanity” and ordered investigations that his office says are “either completed or are in the process.”
Journalists are skeptical. They say the government is not fully transparent when it comes to sharing updates on the investigations. With a lack of support and amid rising threats, several female journalists, including high-profile reporters like Forotan, have either left the profession or their country.
Broadcaster Enikass employed 10 women in a staff of about 80. After a shooting in March killed three of its employees, two quits, and the remaining women were advised to draw salaries but temporarily stay away. “We are the leading station in this region, and we created a very good environment for women,” said Shukrullah Passion, the station’s head of broadcasting.
Pasoon believes the attacks were a response to the station’s coverage of ISKP, but, he said, the station has not changed its content. When government forces took back control of Achin, a district in the south of the Nangarhar province, his team traveled there.
“(We) shot a one-hour program describing life after Daesh and how people suffered,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for the militant group. “Then we went to Pachir Agam, another stronghold of ISKP, and showed pictures of people and their suffering.”
Self-censor or evacuate
Parts of Nangarhar were the original stronghold for Islamic State in Afghanistan. The province, which is marginally bigger than Delaware and borders Pakistan, is now under government control but IS still carries out attacks and still has followers in the region.
Government-held areas are considered safer, but the weak writ of the state leaves journalists vulnerable. Each province brings a different risk, and journalists say militants find ways to threaten them.
The chief editor of a prominent media organization attested to that, saying his outlet holds some stories back. “(T)he Taliban raped and killed a woman in Jawzjan province. Keeping in mind the rise of attacks since peace negotiations started in Qatar, I decided not to publish,” said the editor, who asked for anonymity out of security concerns.
AJSC data show that the Taliban are responsible for 27 killings and 76 cases of media threats between 2013 and 2019. In comparison, the government is listed as responsible for two killings and 66 threats; and IS, for 21 fatal attacks.
Taliban spokesperson Naeem said it was a “far-fetched idea” that local commanders don’t tolerate critical reporting.
“Many journalists in local media not just criticize but also do propaganda against the Islamic Emirate. We still did not create any problems for them. If we wanted, we could create trouble for them, but it is not our policy,” he told VOA, using the Taliban’s term for itself.
The AJSC has evacuated dozens of journalists from Helmand, Ghazni, Kandahar, and other provinces because of serious threats. Founded in 2010, the group monitors the severity of a threat and notes the location, the journalist’s gender, and whether he or she has covered any recent conflicts or criticism of the Taliban or IS.
“After that, you decide whether you need to evacuate or not,” Najib Sharifi, director of the AJSC said. But leaving is a tough call. Reporters know their absence means stories will go untold.
“I am not the only one suffering,” said Shaheed, who covers politics and human rights. Despite threats, she plans to stay. “Others in the society are also suffering. When they suffer, they come to me to tell their stories,” she said.
Shaheed’s 2016 interview with Ahmad Ishchi, a political rival of then-Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum, resulted in international coverage and criminal charges for Dostum after Ishchi accused the general of ordering his abduction and rape.
Dostum, who denies the allegations, fled to Turkey for more than a year. Charges against him remain active, but he has since returned to Afghanistan through a political deal that also granted him the country’s highest military rank.
Afghanistan’s future remains unpredictable.
“I can’t make any guarantees about what will happen inside the country. No one can,” U.S. President Joseph Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said after his boss announced the troop pullout.
President Ghani’s spokesperson Mateen told VOA that the Afghan leader sees it as his “duty to support journalists” and cited government commissions on access to information and media safety. “The constitution is the best legitimate source for the defense and protection of the journalists,” Mateen said.
Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, head of the Afghan negotiation team, said the team has a “coherent strategy” to protect those values gained during the past 20 years, including free and independent media. “All rights and freedoms in our constitution will be respected, “ Stanekzai told VOA, adding that a free media “changes society positively and moves it toward development.”
In terms of press freedom, Taliban spokesperson Naeem told VOA that the group “will have an Islamic system of government in Afghanistan” that guarantees rights. When asked if that would include space for critical media, Naeem said, “Criticism is the right of every person, but it should be done according to Islamic principles and national interest.” Rights for women would be similarly permitted, he said, “as long as they follow the Islamic principles and our cultural values.”
Rights groups say the Taliban are already rolling back freedom of expression and access to education for women in areas they control. Journalists are doubtful that the group will change its ways.
Sharifi sees some tough choices coming after any peace deal.
“Currently, there is a lot of criticism of the government,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll have [that] then because the Taliban will not tolerate that.” (VOA/KB)
By Siddhi Jain
The author who named the book after her twin sons -- Puhor and Niyor -- is a parent who has seen and heard the tales of ridicule and discrimination suffered by many in India and beyond. She says the book is an artistic illustration for kids that details how different families can live and coexist. Whether it's children with two dads or two moms, children with a single dad or single mom, and even multiracial family units, Borthakur's book teaches love, understanding, and compassion towards unconventional families.
Beyond race, gender, color, and ethnicity which have formed the bases for discrimination since the beginning of time, this book aims to bring to light a largely ignored issue. For so long, single parents have been treated like a taboo without any attempt to understand their situations; no one really cares how or why one's marriage ended but just wants to treat single parents as villains simply for choosing happiness and loving their children.
Homosexual parents, a relatively new family system, is another form that has suffered hate and discrimination for many years. Pritisha emphasizes the need to understand that diversity in people and family is what makes the world beautiful and colourful. 'Puhor and Niyor's Mural of Family Stories' is a firm but compassionate statement against all forms of discrimination on the bases of sexual identity, gender, race, and even differences in background
'Puhor and Niyor's Mural of Family Stories' is a firm but compassionate statement against all forms of discrimination on the bases of sexual identity, gender, race and even differences in background. | Photo by Ben Wicks on Unsplash
Written for a global audience, the book is targeted at kids between the ages of five and 10, the reason it is embellished with colourful images of families of different types is to appeal to children's sense of sight and drive home the message at the same time. Borthakur believes children are the best place to start because the ages between five and 10 are the most formative, where little ones pick up habits, beliefs and perceptions.
The Guwahati-born author says, "With this book, I'm not trying to take away the job of parents in forming habits, I simply want to do my part as a parent. It is important that we impart the right values in our kids in a bid to build a better, more inclusive and tolerant global society that is fair to everyone." The author's first attempt at a book was an Assamese poetry 'Anubhav', published in 2010.
Set to be published under the label of Author's Channel, the book is like an adventure; a journey into uncharted territories, untouched subjects and matters long ignored. In her words. "The book takes a critical stand in defense of people in society who have had to undergo severe emotional torture for no cause of theirs. It is a terrible conception to think such people any less of a human just for being different," says publisher Aruna Naidu. By September 30, this title, priced at Rs 299, will be available online and in offline bookstores. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: Book, children, Guwahati, Puhor and Niyor's Mural of Family Stories, moral, story, kids, discrimination, equality
If you feel that clean and well-groomed hands are just an essential prerequisite for women, you might like to think twice. Men should equally pay attention to their hands because our hand houses 1,500 bacteria living on each square centimeter of its skin. You can easily assume what havoc it can create in our body because in India we have the culture of eating with our hands and spaces beneath nails can become breeding heaven for germs. Moreover, clean and maintained hands boost confidence in their daily life activities. Therefore, it's important to keep your hands clean irrespective of your gender by washing or sanitizing at regular intervals. And, to keep them groomed, you don't have to visit a salon.
Rajesh U Pandya, Managing Director, KAI India, gives easy and completely doable tips to follow at home:
* Refrain from harsh soaps: You should be mindful of the soap you are using to wash your hands. Your soap can have a moisturizing element in it like aloe vera or shea butter. Ensure that you're washing your hands with normal water as hot water can make your hand's skin dry and scaly.
You should be mindful of the soap you are using to wash your hands. | Photo by Aurélia Dubois on Unsplash
* Clip your nails regularly: Make use of your personal nail clipper to cut your nails. After cutting your nails at a comfortable length also file them using a nail filer. Never share your nail care clipper as the germs can get transferred to your loved ones. Also, don't forget to use grime remover to remove hidden germs in corners and beneath nails. Also, you may like to file your nails to have a smooth finish.
* Good quality Nail Clipper: Do not use a rusted or chromium coated nail clipper as it might be harmful to skin and might cause dangerous bacterial infections.
* Stop the habit of nail chewing: Sometimes anxiety or extreme boredom can lead to chewing of nails. This habit only makes your nails uneven and ugly. Sometimes, our unclean nail folds give rise to viral, bacterial or fungal infections, which in turn can make us sick if we chew our nails.
Make use of your personal nail clipper to cut your nails. | Pixabay
* Exfoliate your hands: Similar to the way you exfoliate your face; your hands also need it. It helps to keep the dry skin at bay and keep your hands soft. You can buy a scrub or make one at home using brown sugar and olive oil. After scrubbing, you need to massage your hands with moisturizer.
Similar to the way you exfoliate your face; your hands also need it. It helps to keep the dry skin at bay and keep your hands soft. | Wikipedia
* Don't use your nails as tools: Always keep in mind that your nails are like jewels. Never use them to pry things open such as pop cans, removing keys from the ring, opening letters, or scraping off labels. This results in unnecessary breakage of nails, making your hands look dirty.
Never use your nails to pry things open such as pop cans, removing keys from the ring, opening letters or scraping off labels. | Photo by Sammy Williams on Unsplash
* Be aware of nail or cuticle inflammation or redness: If there are any signs of infection, disinfect the skin as soon as possible with an anti-bacterial or anti-fungal ointment.
(Article originally written by N.Lothungbeni Humtsoe) (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: Nails, groom, hand, exfoliate, chew, nail clipper, bite, cuticle
Bitcoin has become an essential crypto asset in modern portfolios and investment funds. The confidence generated in this cryptocurrency will depend a lot on the diversification that companies make in their balance sheets in Bitcoin and the increase of institutional investors that allocate a percentage of their funds in this crypto. American fund manager Cathie Wood makes some interesting predictions, both in the rise that the Bitcoin price will experience in the next 5 years, suggesting these institutional investors allocate 5% of their funds; this will help leverage the Bitcoin market.
Bitcoin will grow by a tenfold
Bitcoin is projected to grow by 10 times its current value in five years, i.e., it could reach $500,000. Of course, this will require companies to invest in cryptocurrencies. This makes it necessary to increase the weight of Bitcoin on balance sheets through investments. One of the investment gurus who supports this prediction is Catherine Wood. Contrarily, Ray Dalio, despite being clear that relying on cash is not a good strategy, views Bitcoin with suspicion, although he calls for its investment. This behavior is due to the actions of governments against the cryptocurrency market.
If something is undoubted is the vertiginous increase that cryptocurrencies have had in general, they have risen more than 60% so far this year. So, even when some governments are trying to regulate cryptocurrencies, they will fail. This attempt to regulate will end up triggering even more cryptos, especially Bitcoin, which is the oldest and most solid of that market.
Bitcoin, is the oldest and most solid of the market. | Photo by Executium on Unsplash
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The current Bitcoin price means is time to buy:
The current price of bitcoin invites you to buy, and perhaps it would be foolhardy not to. In either case, bitcoin will always represent money. Maybe some external factors generate some misgivings, but if you refuse to invest in cryptocurrencies, you are basically denying the near future, it would be as if you didn't have a cell phone or internet.
In India, more and more people are becoming convinced of the benefits of holding some Bitcoin. This can be clearly seen in the rapid increase in the number of new accounts at crypto exchanges such as WazirX and CoinDCX.
ALSO READ: How can you trade in Bitcoin in India?
Bitcoin, despite its fluctuations, represents an excellent financial strategy. The support users give is significant. The same cannot be said of the FIAT currencies, which have lost value and support, showing how fragile they are, being subjected to a constant devaluation. As long as confidence in cryptos grows, the foundations will continue to be laid to maintain their rise and to be able to continue making transactions. We know this by previous experience, as has happened with Ether, thanks mainly to the growing activity of Defi and NFT, i.e. decentralized finance and non-fungible tokens.
Remember that when you invest in Bitcoin, you can do it by buying or trading. When you want to make these transactions do it in a secure Exchange, study your finances to invest, manage the risk, and learn to manage your portfolio efficiently.