By Almudena Toral
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
The Afghan blogosphere is small but female practitioners say their words are closely monitored. The backlash to what they say helps define a range of off-limit topics, from criticizing religion to advocating for women's rights.
Akbar recalled how she once wrote in her gray-toned blog a series of letters to her youngest sister Noorjahan about growing up a woman in Afghanistan. The online letters touched issues ranging from prejudice to sexual harassment to relationships in a male-dominated culture. Not only did she get bothered, she says, but her family also got into trouble and were threatened since she wrote under her real name.
Sadt recently wrote about a poor man who sought help from a religious leader named Ayat Ollah Mohseny. After she criticized the religious leader for not helping the man, Sadt said she was severely threatened and had to take down the post.
"Killing you is very easy," the online threat said. "You want to make destroyed the character of Mr. Mohseny. We can search you easy. You should remove this story."
Although press freedom was formally restored after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, it has proven to be fragile.
"If you want to publish something [online], there's always a fear that they will accuse you," said Fekrat of the Association of Afghan Blog Writers.
He assigns three points on a 10-point scale to freedom of expression in his country. Afghanistan ranked 149 out of 175 in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders worldwide press freedom ranking.
"Freedom of speech is guaranteed in our constitution, but sometimes is broken from government, especially from police and also war leaders," said Zohra Najwa, a blogger whose blog portrait shows the profile of a veiled woman covering her face with a fully extended hand in a '"stop" gesture.
"Blogging is a reflection of how people feel about the situation in Afghanistan," said Nushin Arbabzadah, an Afghan female journalist who works for The Guardian in England. In 2004, she said, many exiles returned home from Iran, bringing with them their blogging customs learned in the more liberal neighboring country.
Now there's more tolerance for different views but security's worsening due to the increasing threat of the Taliban. Women have it tougher. "They're more at risk, more vulnerable, they need more courage," said Najibullah Sharifi, referring to female bloggers and reporters who cover politics and sensitive topics. Sharifi has worked as a journalist and fixer for Western media in Kabul for more than 10 years.
Like any blogger, Akbar said she knows her writing is a possible career hazard.
"I sometimes worry that particular blog posts of mine that have been written with anger and frustration about injustices facing women will be used against me when I look for work opportunities in Afghanistan," she said.
But Akbar uses her real name anyway, saying it keeps her accountable to her readers. Whatever the threats, she said she will continue blogging: "Once you start a struggle you have to be there to end it."
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Almudena Toral, a La Caixa Foundation fellow, is a reporter from Spain. She holds degrees in journalism and international relations.
Reporters Without Borders:
Association of Afghan Blog Writers: