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Oct. 31, 2021

The horrors facing journalists still stuck in Afghanistan were spelled out for members of Unifor 2000 at their annual congress on Saturday.

Rachel Pulfer, executive director of Journalists for Human Rights, and Jeremy Dear, deputy general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, were two of the guest speakers at the local’s 23rd annual congress — the second in a row held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Six journalists have been killed since the Taliban retook Afghanistan in August, said Pulfer, whose Toronto-based organization is working with organizations around the world to help get journalists out of the country.

She described a group of television journalists her group and others were trying to help get out of the country just as the Taliban seized power.

“They had passports … and a letter of support from the president of North Macedonia,” she said. “They were wandering around the area outside the airport but they had no clear path into the airport at that time. They were being flogged and fired on by the Taliban.”

With their security under threat, “I told them to get the hell out of there and told them to find access to safe housing. En route away from the airport they were also fired on by Taliban … and one of them was shot in the foot.”

They went into hiding, It’s been two months now, Pulfer said.

One of them was detained and let go, she said, but members of the journalist’s family were detained and severely beaten.

The saga may end Tuesday when there’s a chance the group could get out of Afghanistan via Qatar and find safe haven in North Macedonia.

The government of North Macedonia is coming to their aid, not the government of Canada, Pulfer emphasized.

Pulfer told of another Afghan journalist, who recently was able to escape and is now in Toronto.

Dear said attacks on journalists are still happening, citing examples in just the last few days. Despite public commitments, the Taliban hasn’t changed, he said.

“They still see independent journalism and women’s rights as their enemy.”

The IFJ has received thousands of pleas for help, he said.

Dear called on Western governments to reduce the bureaucracy that’s slowing efforts to relocate Afghan journalists, and to make Afghan journalists and media workers a priority category for resettlement.

He thanked Unifor and union workers who are helping international efforts to rescue the Afghan media workers.

Another problem is that funding for journalism in Afghanistan has dried up. Dear said 153 media outlets have shut down — that’s two-thirds of the outlets in Afghanistan. Seventy per cent of journalists there are unemployed and 98% of women journalists are now unemployed.

Dear cited a woman journalist and mother who survived a couple of bombing attempts and other threats.

“She is now in hiding and she says she has to change her location daily.”

Dear said while government responses have been woeful in many cases, union responses have been inspiring.

Three women journalists and their families were recently able to get to Greece where the local newspaper workers union has come forward to support the families.

A growing concern is that some Afghan journalists are giving up on foreign governments and are trying to flee on their own. In many cases, they end up getting deported back to Afghanistan.

Unifor 2000 donated $500 to each of the speakers’ organizations to support their efforts to help the Afghan journalists.

(Update: On Monday, two days after she spoke at Congress, Pulfer tweeted “Four more #Afghan journalists out from Afghanistan this morning, bringing @jhrnews‘ numbers out to 204, with 246 remaining. So much more to do, and so much farther to go… but we celebrate the wins when we can. It’s a good day.”)

To donate to the IFJ’s safety fund, click here

To donate to JHR, click here

See also Unifor donates $17,000 to get Afghan journalists to safety

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Also speaking at the convention were Lana Payne, Unifor National secretary-treasurer, Unifor Western Regional Director Gavin McGarrigle and new Unifor Media director Randy Kitt.

Their topics included Unifor’s efforts to support local journalism by making the giant social media companies pay their fair share for the journalism they rely on, the union’s plans to take on the growing threats to journalists, and Unifor’s policy on vaccinations.

See Unifor confronts harassment in journalism 

Dias commits to fighting for the future of media

NEB Statement on Comprehensive Workplace Immunization Programs and Mandatory Vaccinations

Statement on Proof of immunization for Unifor events, offices and meetings

Threats to journalists have to stop!

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Also at Congress, a proposed merger with Unifor 827M moved forward. Delegates voted unanimously in favour of the merger, which now moves on to a vote by Local 2000 members, to be conducted electronically.

827M is a broadcast local based in Terrace. About 25 members work for Bell Media outlets. They have already voted in favour of merging with Local 2000.

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Jennifer Moreau was acclaimed to another three-year term as Unifor 2000’s secretary treasurer.

Cayley Dobie and Mark Nielsen were elected to serve on the elections committee.

Carey Bermingham and Larry Hoare were elected to the local’s audit committee.

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