Overseas Press Club Awards $2,000 Grants to 15 Afghan Journalists in the United States

NEW YORK, Jan. 24, 2022 – The Overseas Press Club of America (OPC) announced today that a panel of judges has chosen 15 Afghan journalists who fled their country and who are now in the United States to each receive $2,000 grants to help them adapt to new lives in America. The funding was made possible by a grant from the Poklon Foundation, based in Santa Monica, Calif., and contributions from OPC members. “We are beyond elated that we were able to take this small but important step in helping the Afghan journalistic diaspora,” OPC President Paula Dwyer said.

Four of the 15 winners asked that their names not be revealed publicly because they fear the consequences for family members still in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The other 11 are:

    • Esmatullah Ahmadzai, Shamshad Radio and Television.
    • Mohammad Edris Akbari, The Kabul Times.
    • Soniya Azhman, Neshana News and Pursesh News.
    • Lima Hadi, Radio Azadi.
    • Javed Ahmad Kakar, Pajhwok news agency.
    • Khadim Hussain Karimi, Eliaatroz newspaper.
    • Khushnood Nabizada, Khaama Press.
    • Frozan Nasir, Chekhad Television.
    • Anisa Shaheed, TOLO News.
    • Sohrab Soroush, Eliaatroz newspaper.
    • Lutf Ali Sultani, Eliaatroz newspaper.
  • Seven of the 15 winners are women, reflecting their prominent role in the Afghan media scene that flourished until the Taliban seized control in August. Women journalists also had particularly urgent reasons to flee because of threats from the Taliban. The winners are currently residing in Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Virginia.

    The winners’ ages ranged from 26 to 50 years. The winners who chose to reveal their ethnicities were from multiple Afghan groups, including Pashtun, Hazara and Tajik.

    To conduct a competition for the grants, the OPC tapped into the email networks of Afghan journalists it had personal contact with at U.S. military bases and they spread the word. The OPC was flooded with 291 applications from all over the world, even from inside Afghanistan, but only Afghan journalists in the U.S. were eligible. “It’s been five months since the fall of Kabul and these journalists have been trapped in tremendous uncertainty about their future,” said William J. Holstein of the OPC board and president of the OPC Foundation, who chaired the judging process. “Their needs are enormous and we hope this is just a first step in helping them.”

    In their submissions, applicants explained how they fled for their lives. Some were beaten or tortured. One described how he received multiple death threats from the Taliban. Many endured the harrowing scene at Kabul airport as a massive U.S. airlift was taking place, including the suicide bombing. Several spent days inside the airport trying to get flights out. Most left with only their clothes and whatever cash they had with them. The Afghan banking system nearly collapsed, making it impossible to withdraw savings. Most lost their luggage, including phones, computers, tape recorders and other devices necessary to conduct journalism.

    They took a variety of paths to get out. Many were airlifted to U.S. military bases in the Persian Gulf and Europe; others fled by land to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan or Pakistan. Their point of entry into the U.S. was usually military bases. Some are gradually getting out and starting the process of getting settled, but their condition in general remains desperate. “I have no money,” one wrote. The ones who got out with their families face larger expenses, and the ones who left families behind are desperate to find ways to send money back home, where the civilian population faces malnutrition.

    The judging panel decided that Afghan journalists working for Afghan news organizations are at the greatest risk and chose to concentrate on helping them over employees and freelancers of major U.S. and British media outlets.

    Judges included: Deb Amos of NPR and an OPC vice president; John Daniszewski, vice president of the Associated Press, head of the North American Chapter of the International Press Institute and vice president of the OPC Foundation; Farnaz Fasshi, reporter for The New York Times and an OPC governor; Bill Gentile, Senior Professional Lecturer and Journalist in Residence at American University and also an OPC Foundation board member; Dru Menaker of PEN America; Marjorie Miller, vice president and global enterprise editor at The Associated Press and an OPC governor; Kiran Nazish, founder of the Coalition for Women in Journalism; Robert Nickelsberg, a photographer who spent 30 years in Afghanistan; Charles Sennott, founder and editor-in-chief of the GroundTruth Project and OPC Foundation board member; and Abdul Wahid Wafa, formerly a New York Times journalist in Afghanistan and director of the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University who’s now employed by Humanity Council of Princeton University. Masuda Sultan, founder of Women for Afghan Women, served as a consultant but did not take part in judging. Several U.S. journalists who covered Afghanistan at some point in history were involved in the judging effort.

    Contact: Patricia Kranz, OPC Executive Director patricia@opcofamerica.org

    The Overseas Press Club of America is the nation’s oldest and largest association of journalists engaged in international news. Every year, it awards the most prestigious prizes devoted exclusively to international news coverage. It was founded in 1939 by nine foreign correspondents in New York City, and has grown to nearly 500 members worldwide. The club’s mission is to uphold the highest standards in news reporting, advance press freedom and promote good fellowship among colleagues while educating a new generation of journalists.