I am so disappointed. Have I lost hope?
Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, women have been protesting for their rights in the different provinces. But on Wednesday, Sept. 8, they questioned the Taliban leaders who decided to abolish the Ministry of Women's Affairs. The Taliban claim to support equal rights according to Islamic Sharia law. So, the protesters wanted to know, why remove the ministry?
My colleagues, Taqi Daryabi, 22, and Nematullah "Nemat" Naqdi, 28, work as reporters and videographers for the Etilaatroz newspaper. They were there to cover the protests.
But the Taliban tried to pull them out because they did not want the protest to get covered by the media. The women surrounded Taqi and Nemat to protect them. Taqi and Nemat tried to tell the Taliban fighters that they are journalists. But the Taliban eventually succeeded in pulling them out and forced them to go to their checkpoint.
Although they tell the international media they are allowing freedom of the press and will respect the rights of women, the reality is something else. I have never believed them. I will never believe them. These people are not even humans. I would have to doubt my own humanity if I start to believe what the Taliban say.
Lashed, beaten and tortured
Taqi and Nemat told me later that, at the checkpoint, they were taken to two separate cells and flogged. They were punched and lashed and hit with water pipes. They were beaten with whatever the Taliban had access to. One of them had his cheek torn, so he was being lashed right in the face, by his eyes.
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While they were being tortured, the Taliban fighters screamed at them that they had organized the protest. When Taqi and Nemat called out that they were journalists, they were ignored.
They each lost consciousness several times, they told me. Each time, a Taliban fighter poured cold water on them to wake them up. And then it goes all over again.
Before they were detained, one of the journalists was on the phone with our office. Our colleagues at the office got so worried. Three of them, including the editor-in-chief, went to the checkpoint to try to get the Taliban to release Nemat and Taqi because they are journalists. But the Taliban fighter became frustrated and started even beating them on the street.
When I spoke to my colleagues later, they said the Taliban took the three of them to a cell where there were 15 other people, but not all of them are journalists. Inside the cell was one man who was so covered in his own blood that the Taliban wouldn't touch him. They gave my colleagues bandages and told them to change the dressing on the injured man's wounds themselves. It turned out that the man participated in the women's rights protest and got his Ph.D. in sociology in India.
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The men in the crowded cell could hear people being tortured in neighboring cells. They could hear the moaning and the screaming, including the voices of women.
Risking your life for your duty
My colleagues were held in that cell for about four hours. When they were released, they returned to the office. Nemat and Taqi were released shortly after, so beaten and weak they were unable to walk or support their own weight.
The Taliban threw them out into the street. Since they couldn't walk, people helped get them to the Etilaatroz office. They tried to wash their faces; they tried to give them water to drink but these men were beaten so severely that they threw up the water that they were drinking. Then they got in a taxi and went to the hospital, where the doctor told them to rest for two weeks.
When I talked to them, they tried to reassure me that they are OK, but they also said they are worried about their names and pictures being so prominent and spreading all over the world. What will happen to us next, they wondered. They are at their homes. They don't have any other place to go. They don't have any place to hide. They are doing their responsibility, they said. But if you aren't safe, how will you do your duty?
If Nemat and Taqi get the chance to get out of the country, they have to save themselves. That's the only thing I can think right now. And I'm trying to find a way to help them.
Journalists in Afghanistan know they can't hide what is happening, to them or their country. If they hide it, the Taliban will get more opportunities to abuse them. But spreading the news is also a huge risk of these people's lives. Next time, if the Taliban sees any of my five colleagues, they might be killed. The Taliban is already killing people and torturing them. It's so easy for them. It's just a matter of giving an order to them.
Since the events Wednesday, the Taliban have banned protests that they don't approve of. It is not easy to report on the Taliban. To report on these ongoing realities, we have no other options but to go to the scene, take pictures, record voices, record videos, come back, write and publish – because we need accurate information.
If we don't go there, who else do we have to take the risk?
Fatema Hosseini is a journalist with Etilaatroz, a newspaper in Afghanistan. She also is a freelance reporter for USA TODAY and Newsquest.
As told to Voices editor Kelsey Bloom, a member of USA TODAY's Editorial Board.