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Many of Afghanistan's journalists have fled. Those who remain face a harsh new world

Nabih Bulos, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

“But it’s different these days. We have social media. Everyone has a smartphone. We’re relying more on citizen journalists,” he said.

Those journalists who have left are haunted either by the guilt of fleeing the country they loved or by the nightmares that warp their memories of the life they abandoned.

“When you’re in the country and you’re dying, you die once. But when you’re out of the country, the way people look at you, mistreat you, feel sorry for you — you die every single minute,” said one Afghan newspaper journalist who was evacuated to another country in August and who requested anonymity for reasons of security.

“You die … because you’re a refugee. … You’re just a number, like millions of others, and then who cares about refugees?”

Daryabi still hopes to salvage what he can of Etilaatroz, which means information of the day in Dari. Sitting on his bed in a refugee camp in Doha, he is coordinating the newspaper’s now-scattered staff. Some of them remain in Kabul; others were evacuated under the auspices of various U.S. organizations and await onward visas or had reached Europe. Daryabi has been trying to raise funds online.

The newspaper is a small organization, but he speaks with obvious pride when he recounts how he, a farmer’s son from a village near Ghazni, built a newspaper from the ground up. It now has a daily circulation of 2,000 to 3,000, plus hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. Over the years, it has published hard-hitting exposes of government malfeasance and corruption; one memorable investigation in 2017 showed how former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani brokered land deals in return for election support in 2014.

 

Daryabi often describes the paper as his oldest child, whose survival he has always acted to guarantee.

But at stake now is the general survival of fair and independent news in Afghanistan — and the fledgling civil society that the industry was helping to build, he said.

“If national and local media are shut down, what is being reported from Afghanistan will be incomplete,” Daryabi said. “Afghanistan should not be without journalists or media again.”

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(Los Angeles Times staff writer Marcus Yam contributed to this report.)

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