'The voice of Afghans will never be silenced': An exiled Afghan news anchor shares his story

ILLUSTRATION_EXILED_AFGHAN_Parwiz_Sapy
4 min read
The New Arab Meets: Exiled anchor Parwiz Sapy whose career and future have been stunted and reduced to destitution after the Taliban's swift return to Afghanistan.

In Islamabad, a young former journalist is auctioning off his coat.

Via a recorded video link he speaks in Pashto and explains the purpose of the auction; to raise money for his family and fellow Afghan journalists who have joined him in exile in Pakistan’s capital.

The coat he is auctioning hangs behind him on a hanger, at first glance is normal enough, but five years ago it was worn in the midst of events that were burned into the minds of thousands of ordinary Afghans.

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“I thought that these clothes would be with me until the end of my life; after my death, I advised my family to bury me in the same graveyard as them,” says Parwiz Sapy when speaking to The New Arab.

"A lot of my fellow journalists who were in the front line of defending freedom of speech and media in Afghanistan now are in a dire situation in Pakistan"

The reason for their significance becomes clear as Parwiz recounts his story, in November of 2017, he was a newsreader at a national news outlet, Shamshad TV, when a fighter from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) blew himself up at the entrance to the building, while a second attacker ran inside and stormed the offices. Both were disguised as policemen.

Parwiz became a minor icon in much of the international press for his actions that day which he recalls in vivid detail: “I was about to just finish a meeting with colleagues when suddenly the powerful sound of a blast and gunfire interrupted our meeting.

"I went to the guestroom from where the view of the entrance gate was visible, I saw the two men fully equipped and shooting constantly on the main building. I came to the newsroom, and everyone was shocked and didn't know what to do, our female employees were screaming and everyone was searching for a way of escaping," he explains.

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"I broke the small window of the newsroom;  it was almost 10 metres from the ground floor outside and through this tiny way we rescued almost all of our colleagues."

As the employees escaped from the window Parwiz had been able to break, the office’s security team exchanged fire with the attacker.

“During the rescue operation we feared that the attackers would enter the building every single minute, but our brave security guards were fighting with them – one of them was sadly killed by the attackers,” continues Parwiz.

Parviz Afghanistan
Parwiz worked as a newsreader at the national news outlet Shamshad TV

The chaos continued for three hours more with Afghan security forces eventually killing the attackers and a frail sense of normality resuming. ISIL would take responsibility for the attack shortly afterwards.

With staff trickling back into the building Parwiz, his hands still bloodied from breaking the window took his seat back behind the host’s desk and the channel began broadcasting again.

“I had the privilege to give the starter announcement,” says Parwiz; his words to the camera would become a small part of the history of that day: 

"Dear viewers welcome back to Shamshad TV, we were under complex attack but thanks to Allah and Afghan security forces, the attack has just finished and we are here to serve you and the viable sound of Afghans which will never ever be silent”

“I did the announcement and appeared on the television with my bloody clothes and my wounded hands carrying bandages. That day was a memorable and unforgettable day and the bloody clothes with which I made the announcement are very precious to me.”

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With the Taliban returning to power years later and the effective stranglehold on the press that followed, Parwiz was forced to flee the country and travel by road to Pakistan.

“I decided to leave the country and everything behind but not those bloody clothes and bandages,” he says.

“A lot of my fellow journalists who were on the front line of defending the freedom of speech and media in Afghanistan now are in a dire situation in Pakistan, including me.

"A lot of Afghan journalists have fled the country because the Taliban have been beating, torching and even killing them – they believe that journalists are spreading propaganda against them and promoting Western culture.”

Back at his residence in Islamabad, Parwiz’s auctioning off his clothing continues.

For him the garments are imbued with his experiences of becoming a minor icon of Afghanistan’s media; for the foreseeable future though, he will remain as anonymous as the many Afghan exiles who find themselves in Pakistan.

Hadees Pardes is an Islamabad-based Afghan freelance journalist covering the Afghanistan war and politics.  

Follow him on Twitter: @hadesspardes 

Michael Maitland-Jones is a freelance Journalist at the BBC World Service and Newsnight.

Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelMaitlan5