We’re delighted to announce that the Index on Censorship Moment of Freedom 2023 is the moment the young Afghan journalist Spozhmai Maani touched down in Paris after fleeing the Taliban to continue her career in Europe.
It is almost exactly a year since Spozhmai first contacted Index. Her email told the grim story of a young broadcast journalist forced to flee her country: “Due to my work as a journalist, I have confronted many things from house raids, serious threats, online bullying, digital and cyber-attacks and harassment,” she wrote. In her work as a presenter and reporter Spozhmai had already been the target of threats from the Taliban. But after the extremist group seized power in 2021, women journalists were forced off air and Spozhmai went into hiding before escaping to neighbouring Pakistan.
But her nightmare was not over. In Pakistan, the harassment continued, this time simply because she was an Afghan. After more than a year of living in fear and unable to earn her living as a journalist, Spozhmai wrote to us in desperation. The only way we could realistically help was to pay her for her work as a journalist, which is how Spozhmai became a contributor to Index, writing articles about the plight of journalists and artists in her home country.
Partly thanks to the support of Index and other free expression organisations, but mainly through her own determination, Spozhmai was finally able to reach safety in Paris in June 2023. The picture of her smiling in front of the Eiffel Tower said everything about this moment of freedom. We are proud to have played a small part in her story.
Afghanistan’s tragedy is that Spozhmai’s story is just one of many. It is incredibly difficult to be a journalist in Afghanistan under the Taliban where all dissent has been crushed, even more so for female journalists. Meanwhile, the UK government continues to fail to honour its promises to provide a safe route for journalists wishing to come to the UK. While other countries, including France, Germany, Ireland and even Kosovo provide refuge, the UK has kept its doors closed. We heard this week that another Index contributor, Salma Niazi, editor of Afghan Times, has arrived safely in Dublin. These journalists will make a significant contribution to the intellectual life of their host countries. The UK is diminished as a result.
Over the past year, Index has been inspired by journalists such as Spozhmai and Salma to organise a series of events to raise money to help their colleagues. Working with Zahra Joya, founder of Rukhshana Media, campaigner Zehra Zaidi and Katherine Schofield, Head of Music at King’s College, University of London we have helped develop a network of support. Events at Somerville College Oxford and King’s College chapel in London have helped raise awareness of the ongoing situation in Afghanistan. We have also worked closely with Alex Crawford, Special Correspondent at Sky News, who has done as much as anyone to publicise the ongoing struggle of women in Afghanistan.
Spozhmai told Index: “I am deeply honoured to receive the ‘Moments of Freedom’ award from Index on Censorship. I am grateful for the recognition and the support of everyone who voted – your belief in the power of free expression fuels my commitment to making a positive impact.”