Broadcast journalist Nazira Karimi is named Tahirih’s 2015 Courageous Voice Honoree
When Nazira Karimi, an Afghan journalist, began her career as a reporter in 1990, she didn’t suspect that just a few years later she and her entire family would face a terrifying saga of harassment, death threats, and violence that would consume their lives for years.
Nazira first thought about a career in journalism in 9th grade. Her teacher noticed her inquisitive mind, her lively spirit, and her constant stream of questions, and in tandem with her parents, encouraged her to pursue her natural talents.
Young Nazira quickly rose to prominence in Afghanistan for her intrepid journalism, reporting on and speaking out against the fanatical activities of aggressive militia groups who would become known as the Taliban. She decried their gender-apartheid politics and brutality against Afghan women and girls, and she was admired by the public for her advocacy. Members of the Taliban were desperate to silence her courageous voice.
In 1994, Nazira found out Taliban hitmen were planning her murder. She fled to Pakistan with her husband and children, and began working at the BBC, where she bravely continued to report on Taliban atrocities. In 1996, when the Taliban took over Kabul, things took a turn for the worse, especially for women in the region. At one point, during an interview for the BBC, she asked a Taliban spokesman about whether the Taliban would allow women to work. In response, he detained her for three hours, after which he told her to never come back and stay at home.
No longer safe in Pakistan, Nazira contacted the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) repeatedly for help, but was told there was no refugee resettlement program for Afghans. It wasn’t until the Taliban kidnapped and nearly beat her husband to death that the UNHCR officer finally took special emergency action and immediately resettled Nazira, her husband, and children in the United States as refugees.
While Nazira adjusted to life in the United States, the Taliban began to harass her relatives in Afghanistan. They sent death threats, and one night broke into the home of Nazira’s mother, brother, and unwed sister. Two men beat her mother and attempted to rape her sister, but her brother fought them off. They pursued him as he fled, mutilating his feet in a spray of gunfire, though he managed to escape. After that, all 16 members of Nazira’s family went into hiding. When they applied to the UNHCR for refugee status in 1999, they were denied, twice.
Nazira, determined to help her family, contacted the Feminist Majority Foundation, who in turn retained the services of Tahirih Justice Center. The two organizations appealed the UNHCR’s decision. As the family waited for a resolution, the situation in Afghanistan worsened. The Taliban tortured several of the Karimi’s friends and neighbors for information. Nazira’s mother panicked, begging Nazira to turn herself over to the Taliban, promising she would kill herself and her Nazira’s sister by jumping out a window, rather than be found by the Taliban.
Having lost all hope, and in a constant state of fear, anxiety, and illness, Nazira threatened to set herself on fire in front of the White House to end the suffering and draw attention to the Taliban’s brutality and needs of her family. The Feminist Majority and Tahirih leapt into action, and amazingly were able to garner enough support to expedite the Karimi’s emergency refugee processing and resettlement.
Safe at lastNazira now works very happily as a successful reporter for Ariana Television Network, the largest channel in Afghanistan, which reaches millions of viewers, and her family has thrived in their new lives in the United States. Her oldest daughter is becoming a nurse, and her son works in the financial sector, while one of her nephews is a State Department diplomat and another is studying to be a doctor. One of her nieces studied criminal justice and will be a police officer.
The Karimi’s case also resulted in a well-received recommendation to expedite the resettlement of Afghan women in the United States, and for the establishment of a permanent INS processing center in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Nazira will receive Tahirih’s Courageous Voice Honoree Award on Tuesday, April 14 at Tahirih’s 18th Annual Gala, “Saving, Lives, Celebrating Courage.” The gala will be held at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, DC.