Farida Nekzad

Pajhwok Afghan News, Afghanistan.

Farida Nekzad is a champion of press freedom and women’s rights in Afghanistan. She works under tremendous pressure at a time when women journalists are being threatened and killed for their reporting. Despite the danger, Nekzad is committed to staying in her country and continuing her work.

Nekzad, 31, works in Kabul, where she is the managing editor of Pajhwok Afghan News, Afghanistan’s leading independent news agency. Pajhwok provides daily news and features in English, Pashto and Dari to both Afghan and international audiences. In 2004, Nekzad was one of the news agency’s founders.

Nekzad frequently receives phone calls and email messages threatening her life. For instance, during the funeral service of her colleague, Zakia Zaki, who was murdered in June 2007, she received calls on her cell phone saying that she would have the same fate. The callers, who spoke different languages and called from different phone numbers, all said to Nekzad: “Daughter of America! We will kill you, just like we killed her.” They told her that if she continued to support America, foreign troops and democracy, she would be killed, adding that she would by murdered so gruesomely that no one would be able to recognize her.

After her news agency published a story in 2003 about a warlord who had evaded punishment for multiple crimes – including murder, rape and torture – Nekzad narrowly escaped a kidnapping attempt. She worked for two organizations at the time and took a taxi to get from one to the other. The driver starred at her in the mirror and started questioning her about her story, asking her why she wrote it and urging her to not write other stories. Nekzad told him to just drive, but he began driving fast and going the wrong way, so she opened the door and jumped from the moving car. Her arms and knees were wounded, but the car disappeared, so she was unable to identify it or the driver. Nekzad now frequently switches the car she drives, changes her schedule daily and sleeps in different rooms in her home to prevent ambush by potential attackers.

Nekzad first became interested in journalism when she was a teenager while watching interviews with Afghan officials on television. She was encouraged by a neighbor to try her hand at reporting. But when the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996, Nekzad was forced to withdraw from Kabul University to take refuge in Pakistan, where she stayed in exile for five years. She continued to study journalism for a period in India.

Upon returning to Afghanistan in late 2001, Nekzad worked as a producer and editor for various media outlets and also became a media trainer. She trained journalists at news media organizations such as IMPACS Radio in 2003 and the Institute of War and Peace Reporting in 2004. In 2003, she also worked as an IWPR staff reporter, covering politics, economic and social issues, women’s rights and the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Nekzad hasn’t let threats interfere with her reporting; instead, she continues her job and her life as best she can. She says she wants to stay in Afghanistan to promote women’s rights and increase women’s presence in society. Nekzad, who is vice president of the South Asia Media Commission, is also committed to supporting women journalists and encouraging more women to become journalists.

“Above all, we strive to tell the world what is happening to women in Afghanistan, even if some of us have to sacrifice our lives. […] I want to prove that we – women journalists – can work shoulder to shoulder with our brothers while at the same time remaining steadfast in our profession.“ Nekzad said in her acceptance speech for the Courage in Journalism Award.

Nekzad received the 2007 International Press Freedom Award by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and will also receive an International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Project Journalists in 2008.

She was born on November 1, 1976, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Farida Nekzad is the second Courage in Journalism Award winner from Afghanistan, following Sharifa Akhlas (1999). Najiba Ayubi (2013) is the third winner from the country.

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