Report on the Freedom of Speech for Afghanistan Symposium in Berlin, Germany – September 29, 2023

In Berlin, Germany, on September 29, 2023, a symposium dedicated to the cause of “Freedom of Speech for Afghanistan” was held by the Afghanistan Journalists Support Organization (AJSO), about the ongoing struggle for press freedom in Afghanistan. This symposium brought together a diverse range of stakeholders, from journalists to activists, to discuss the challenges faced by Afghan media, especially in the wake of the Taliban’s return to power, and to formulate strategies for supporting free expression in Afghanistan.

The symposium began with a warm welcome speech by Mr. Hamid Obaidi, founder and chairperson of AJSO, who illuminated the event’s purpose and agenda. His leadership at the Afghanistan Journalists Support Organization (AJSO) and tireless efforts were acknowledged as instrumental in making this event possible.

Freshta Hemmati, CEO of AJSO, emphasized the crucial role of empowering Afghan journalists in exile to preserve truth. She presented the major achievements of AJSO from the beginning of its establishment until then and highlighted how AJSO collaborates with local and international partners to amplify Afghan voices globally, ensuring that vital narratives from Afghanistan reach the world.

The first panel titled “Freedom of Speech for Afghanistan” consisted of Afghan journalists who shed light on Afghanistan’s media landscape. They highlighted how Afghanistan had witnessed a media revolution over the last two decades. Afghan media had become a regional beacon of free speech despite daunting challenges. However, under the Taliban regime, freedom of speech had become a risky endeavor, with journalists enduring torture and death threats. The panelists emphasized the collective responsibility to support these courageous truth-tellers, enabling their vital work in the face of grave risks. Additionally, they have explained the challenges Afghan journalists face in Afghanistan and third transition countries. They called upon all international communities to consider the tough situation journalists face at the moment and requested them to collaborate with journalist-supporting organizations to take serious actions.

A documentary expertly directed by Basir Ahmad Daneshyar, vice-chair of AJSO took center stage, providing a cinematic journey into the intricate layers of Afghanistan’s media landscape post-August 2021. The documentary used captivating visuals and insightful narratives to convey the challenges faced by Afghan journalists and the critical importance of preserving free expression.

Dr. Hazrat Bahar, AJSO board member, delivered a presentation on the critical need for a news agency in exile, which offers a lifeline to Afghan journalists to amidst the Taliban’s repression and on the other hand, creates job opportunities for them. His insights highlighted the invaluable role of news agencies in exile in preserving free speech for Afghanistan.

The second panel featured journalists who discussed their experiences both in Germany and in journalistic endeavors in exile. They shared insights into the global importance of preserving free expression, showcasing the challenges faced and the resilience displayed by journalists transcending borders. Their experiences underscored the global urgency to safeguard press freedom, revealing shared narratives that unite journalists across nations.

Ahmad Shah Azimi, photojournalist and AJSO board member, exhibited a compelling photo exhibition that depicted the reality of Afghan journalism. His work showed the resilience of journalists and their commitment to truth even in the face of adversity. He provided a comparative situation of pre-Taliban and during Taliban’s take over for media industry in Afghanistan.

Abdul Ghafoor Liwal, AJSO board member moderated a group discussion where participants elaborated on the possibilities of establishing a news agency in exile. The discussion covered topics such as assessing the needs of the news agency, challenges and opportunities, sustainability, and funding. Most participants agreed that in the face of draconian restrictions by the Taliban, a news agency in exile becomes a vital platform for Afghan journalists to create job opportunities for Afghan journalists, and to provide fact-based, authentic, unbiased news to the Afghan and international community outside Afghanistan. It serves as a professional platform where truth can thrive amidst oppression, especially in a climate of freedom of speech bans and heavy censorship within Afghanistan.

In closing, the symposium expressed gratitude to dedicated supporters, including Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit, Leipzig University, MiCT, and Bee4change. Their commitment to free speech paved the way for this significant gathering, and their continued support was greatly appreciated by the AJSO team.

The symposium’s success was attributed to the unwavering dedication and tireless efforts of colleagues who made it possible. Their contributions, passion, and hard work were the driving force behind this meaningful event.

The symposium was concluded by Nasir Ahmad Taraki, AJSO’s program development advisor, emphasizing the importance of continued commitment to global freedom of speech. It was viewed as a catalyst for positive change, shaping a future where the powerful voices of the Afghan people resound worldwide. The event marked not the end, but the beginning of a renewed commitment to defending the fundamental right of every individual to speak freely, challenge, and illuminate the world with their words. It was a call to forge ahead, fortified by the shared vision of a future where voices echo without fear, information flows freely, and the strength of convictions shapes a world of unbridled expression and understanding.

The symposium thanked all participants for being part of this transformative journey toward a world where freedom of speech is not just a right but a living, breathing reality.