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.
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.
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.
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."