"We Were Told That If We Don't Stop Broadcasting, We Will All Be Killed"

Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images.
Lida Yosufzai, a young journalist who agreed to be photographed if she wasn't identifiable, sat for a portrait in the Kaihan Radio Station office, which was also ransacked during the period in which the Taliban had control of Kunduz.
On the morning of September 28, 2015, Sediqa Sherzai and her husband, Obaidullah Qazizadha, drove to their workplace in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan.

Sherzai, the cofounder and director of Roshani Radio and TV, grew nervous as she neared the independent local station she’d led since 2008. She could hear gunfire and rocket fire from the battle between the Taliban and government forces.

When she arrived outside the building that housed Roshani Radio, her worst fears were realized. Armed fighters were mobilizing at the end of the street.

She called the office and directed colleagues inside to leave before turning around herself. Just minutes after she reached home, she peered out the window and saw a rocket bomb crash on her street. They would have to leave Kunduz, she realized.

With her husband, daughter, and one colleague, Sherzai fled to Kabul.

The destruction and mayhem that followed have been well documented.

The Taliban fighters released more than 700 people from jail, including more than 100 of their own members, took over the airport, and ransacked government buildings. As the fighting intensified, the United States mistakenly bombed a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, killing dozens.

Amid the chaos and bloodshed, everything inside the offices of Roshani Radio was destroyed. And she wasn't the only one. Lida Yosufzai, an anchor at Radio Kayhan, also saw her station in Kunduz ransacked.

“The Taliban attacks directly affect the female journalists. But on a broader scale, it affects all women,” she told The Washington Post. . “We had literacy programs and other shows to help women. Now, everything has stopped.”

Now, almost three months have passed since the Taliban’s shortlived takeover of Kunduz, Sherzai is back at work. But her job has become even more difficult than before. She spoke with Refinery29 about her harrowing experience and what’s next at the station.
When the battle ended and you returned to Kunduz, what state did you find your office in?
“When my colleagues left work the day the Taliban attacked Kunduz, they locked the gate behind them. The first thing I noticed upon returning was that the lock on the gate had been broken by [someone] shooting bullets into it.

"Once inside my office, I saw that all our equipment, including computers, mixers, mini disk recorders, tables, chairs, and microphones, was either missing or destroyed. Some of our documents and files were missing, while others were burnt to ash. Our television was laying shattered on the ground. My husband and I had put everything we had into the station — he is director for Roshani TV — and we were just devastated.”

Within hours, they erased all the years of hard work we had put into giving women the courage to step out of their homes to work.

Do you know who attacked your radio station?
“I did not see it with my own eyes so I cannot say with certainty, but the fact that our station was destroyed on the same day that the Taliban entered the city makes it a strong possibility that the Taliban demolished our radio station.

"In the past, our staffers have been threatened by the Taliban, because the programs that we run are mostly about social progress and the rights of women, and this is against their interest.

"Lastly, we suspect the Taliban, because in June Mawlavi Noorul-Huda, the religious presenter of Roshani Radio, was killed when a bomb attached to his car exploded. After he died, my staffers received a threatening phone call from the Taliban — we were told that if we don’t stop broadcasting, we will all be killed like Noorul-Huda.”

Why do you think the Taliban wanted to destroy Roshani Radio?
“I began this radio station because after the Taliban government dissolved in 2001, the state of women’s rights in Afghanistan was below par. I had to find a way to educate women about their rights, and radio was the perfect medium to attain my goal because its reach is so widespread. And this is exactly why the Taliban attacked our office. They do not want women to realize that they have rights, they do not women to be empowered.

"For the last nine years, every day from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. we ran shows that educated and informed the youth, women, and girls in our society about their rights. We were not just limited to Kunduz, we also broadcasted in Takhar and Baghlan provinces.

"Everyone knows that Roshani Radio is run primarily by women, we have nine women and four men on our staff, and by attacking us, within hours, they erased all the years of hard work we had put into giving women the courage to step out of their homes to work. This attack is not just on one media organization or one group of women, it has set back the rights of women and press freedom that we have worked for all these years. Now we have started again from scratch.”
Photo: Courtesy of Sediqa Sherzai.
The staffers of Roshani Radio returned to Kunduz to find their equipment missing and their office destroyed.
What did it feel like to start from square one?
“It was very painful. First, for many days there was uncertainty because we didn’t know when the government would be able to take Kunduz back from the militants. Then once we were allowed to return to the city, we didn’t know how to start because all our equipment was destroyed.

"But about a month ago, some generous people gifted us some basic equipment and we re-launched and had our first show since the attack. The show discussed the link between peace, progress, and women’s rights. The point we were trying to get across was that unless there is peace, women cannot go to work, but there can be no peace until women are part of the daily processes of the city. My audience called in and they said they were very excited that the radio channel was back on air. They all sent me good wishes. It felt very good to host a show again.”

What security measures have you taken since you re-launched Roshani Radio in Kunduz?
“This is a very difficult question to answer, mostly because feeling safe in Kunduz is so difficult. The Taliban now know where our office is, so we just have to put our faith in the police; our protection is in their hands. One thing that we do differently since we re-launched this month is that we have limited our live programs.

"This increases our security, because we can run pre-recorded shows without being physically present in the office. But I must add that this also makes me very upset because my favorite show was my 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. live show when I would ask women to call in to discuss social issues and complaints that they had about the government. My audience also said that this was their favorite show. And now I can only take live calls once a week, and this upsets me a lot.”
Photo: Courtesy of Sediqa Sherzai.
Staffers of Roshani Radio during a recording session at their office before the shortlived Taliban takeover in September 2015.

Are you hopeful about the future of media in Afghanistan, especially media organizations run by women?
“I had always wanted to be a journalist. However, shortly after I graduated from Kunduz University, the Taliban were in control. Under their government, women could not work. But I couldn’t sit passively while the Taliban snatched away women’s liberties; so I began running an underground school for girls. After the collapse of the Taliban government, I saw that the situation for women in Kunduz was terrible and something had to be done to make them realize their rights. I could’ve joined a nonprofit, but I wanted my impact to be as wide as possible, and that is why I started this broadcasting. And even after this horrible attack, I am still broadcasting. So yes, I am very hopeful.

"As of now, our shows are not making any profits. In fact, we are going into losses. Moreover, night and day, I am scared for my life. I am worried about the security of my coworkers and I am so fearful that the Taliban will come again and destroy our equipment. But I still have a lot of hope for the future of Afghanistan. As long as we help each other, we can keep progressing and improving the world for women.”


More from Global News