Crime Justice

Freed Afghan journalist recounts attempted murder by ISIS members in jail

By AFP

French-Afghan journalist Mortaza Behboudi attends a press conference at the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) office in Paris, on October 23. Jailed in Afghanistan since January, he was freed on October 18 after charges against him were dropped. [Julien De Rosa/AFP]

French-Afghan journalist Mortaza Behboudi attends a press conference at the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) office in Paris, on October 23. Jailed in Afghanistan since January, he was freed on October 18 after charges against him were dropped. [Julien De Rosa/AFP]

PARIS -- Journalist Mortaza Behboudi, who had spent 284 days in jail in Afghanistan, said he thought he would never make it out alive.

The French-Afghan reporter was covering a gathering of students in front of Kabul University when he was arrested in January.

Originally from Afghanistan, he became a refugee in 2015 in France, where he set up a news site, Guiti News, with other exiles from Afghanistan.

He was imprisoned just two days after returning to Afghanistan.

Afghan women hold placards as they march to protest for their rights in Kabul on April 29. [AFP]

Afghan women hold placards as they march to protest for their rights in Kabul on April 29. [AFP]

What followed next was "10 months of torture," Behboudi, 29, told a news conference in Paris on Monday (October 23) following his release from prison last week.

He said he was beaten by his jailers, nearly choked to death by members of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and questioned by intelligence services.

'Kidnapped'

Neither his French passport nor his press cards saved him from arrest, he said. He was accused of being a spy and supporting the "resistance" and jailed.

"I felt kidnapped," he said. He shared tiny cells, measuring just two to three square metres, with a dozen other inmates including members of ISIS.

He said he was "harassed all the time," could not see the sky and lost track of time.

Speaking to broadcaster France Inter on Tuesday, the journalist, who is a member of the Hazara ethnic minority group, said several members of ISIS tried to choke him in his sleep.

"They wanted to strangle me one night," he said, adding that the guards intervened and transferred him to another cell.

ISIS has for years targeted predominantly Shia Hazaras and other religious minorities.

More than six months into his ordeal, he was transferred to Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul, where conditions improved. He also learnt that Reporters Without Borders (RSF) had hired a lawyer to defend him.

'Journalism stifled'

Behboudi refused to go into detail about the abuses he said he suffered from Afghan officials out of concern for other journalists who are still imprisoned in Afghanistan.

"We don't know if they will be released soon," Behboudi said.

After August 2021, the authorities cracked down hard on what had been seen as a thriving sector.

"Journalism has largely been stifled," said Christophe Deloire, director general of RSF, which organized the news conference.

According to the press advocacy group, "more than half" of Afghan media outlets have disappeared.

Of the country's 12,000 journalists, barely 4,800 are still working now, and "more than 80% of female journalists" have been forced to quit their jobs, RSF said.

Oppression of women

Behboudi had planned to write about female students who could no longer pursue their studies in Kabul when he was arrested.

Teenage girls have been banned from attending most secondary schools and women from universities, and last year women were prohibited from entering parks, funfairs, gyms and public baths.

Women are also barred from traveling without a male relative and have been told they must cover up with a veil or burqa when outside the home.

Most women have lost their government jobs -- or are being paid a tiny salary to stay at home.

'Everything is censored'

Last week, the journalist was finally freed after all charges against him, including espionage and illegal support for foreigners, were thrown out at a court hearing in Kabul.

Asked about his plans for the future, Behboudi said he wanted to "move on."

He admits he was fortunate and that other Afghan journalists do not have the "support of Western media and the international community."

"Everything is censored these days," Behboudi said.

"If I take a photo on the street, I risk being arrested," he said. "There is no longer freedom of expression; there is no longer freedom of the press in Afghanistan."

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ISIS is a very ruthless and butchering group. Humanity can not be expected from them. A friend of mine who was recently released from the Taliban prison told me some stories. One of them was a disgruntled Taliban fighter who his government imprisoned. My friend said that he swore that he made many sacrifices to make the Islamic Emirate take power, but now that it has come to power, it has arrested and imprisoned its people for a very common violation. He said that if he is rereleased, he will go directly to the ranks of ISIS and start a war against the Islamic Emirate. This butcher group may become stronger with time of such disgruntled people.

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I do not understand why the media, especially the Persian speaking people, connects the issue of ISIS with the Taliban (the current government of Afghanistan)? First, ISIS does not exist in Afghanistan, and even if it does, it is not a challenge. If no new project enters Afghanistan, ISIS will never be a threat to Afghanistan and from Afghanistan to the countries of the region. I read a news about this that was published by Iranian media. In the news from the Ministry of Intelligence of Iran, it is announced that one of the main heads of networks of the ISIS terrorist group has been arrested in Sistan and Baluchistan. The source adds that one of the main heads of networks related to the ISIS terrorist group, which sought to recruit and make networks, create an operational base for terror and sabotage actions, after extensive intelligence and operational measures in the domestic and foreign spheres by the soldiers of Imam Zaman (A.S.) in the General Directorate of Intelligence of Sistan and Balochistan province, was arrested. It is stated in the news that by creating different user accounts in the social networks that, this person was able to create teams in the hard-to-reach areas of the province by taking advantage of foreign nationals and internal self-proclaimed elements. They were arrested last month. This is proof that ISIS is not only in Afghanistan, but also in Iran, Pakistan and the countries of the region, while you did not publish news about their existence in Pakist

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The government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has prohibited all journalists; domestic and foreign, from taking pictures and filming of women's and men's protests. No one should do a work that is prohibited by the government in a country. Whenever a journalist travels to another country for making a report, he must inform himself of the laws of that country before traveling there. He should act according to the law of that country. He is lucky to have escaped from the clutches of the ISIS group in prison without being killed and returned safely to his family. This is good news. The Taliban has forbidden taking pictures of the gatherings, be it of women or men, and at that moment, whether it is a camera or a mobile phone, they take it from them, and hits it to the ground to break it, and they take serious action against the cameramen. Those who travel to Afghanistan from outside of Afghanistan should not take pictures in government areas or in places where taking pictures is prohibited, as they will be beaten by the Taliban.

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It is a lie that the Taliban does not allow anyone to take pictures. They themselves take pictures and videos all day, and they do not prevent others. Anyone who violates the laws and is in any country, he will not be allowed to do so. Some people and groups are unhappy with the current government, they say whatever comes to their mouths. This is cruel. Black should be called black and white should be called white.

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I thought that both Murtaza and Daesh members were imprisoned in the same prison with the government and that he was bored with them in the prison. Later, I thought that this person was imprisoned with Daesh. They claim to bring an Islamic government, but looking at their actions, the Israelites would not have oppressed the Palestinians as much as they did. In Islam, there is no oppression of human beings. Islam is a religion of peace, love, and affection. I have heard that these animal-like Daesh are looking for different ways of inflicting different tortures on people and choosing them, which has nothing to do with the law of humanity. In my opinion, the creation of such sects is done from the political side to defame Islam. If they thought about the implementation of religion, they would not have punished people like this. One can only wonder what other things we will hear and what will happen. All our lives have been spent in wars and conflicts. May Allah guide us all. May Allah unite all Afghans. We no longer have the power to fight. Afghans are impoverished people. Until we are not united, there is no other way. The more we are divided into parties and groups, the worse we will be. Some families do not have meals for today and tomorrow. I wish our leaders would agree that they will not fight anymore and we will get united. We wonder what to do. We are not birds, so we can fly away from this country. May Allah destroy the wrongdoers.

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The work of ISIS is only to kill. They are doing these killings according to the given plan, killing only Shia Afghans to create differences between these two religious groups and lay the groundwork for an eternal war in this country. Alhamdulillah, the Shia Afghans are aware of these conspiracies that the world wants to create such a rift between the Shia and the Sunni so that the only vengeance is to kill them. But thanks, both religious groups are aware of this that this is a planned work, and they want to involve them in war. If this fire is fuelled, then this fire will remain alive till doomsday. I am surprised that the international community and the United States know very well that terrorist groups, ISIS, are all being trained in Pakistan, and their sanctuaries are also in this country; then why is it not being stopped? It is clear that everything is going according to the will of the world, but God has turned Muslims into a donkey and piled logs of wood on top of it!

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Now it is good news that a journalist has been released from the prison. There is no doubt that ISIS only kills people, they are murderers of humanity. Journalism and freedom of speech and media have been reduced to zero. I know hundreds of journalists who do not have jobs and have not been evacuated. Instead of real journalists, fake journalists have been evacuated from Afghanistan.

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