The jihadi army seized the Afghan capital of Kabul just days ago — and for the first time since then, they addressed the world’s media on Tuesday during a press conference.
As the notorious group’s spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahed went on to claim “security and peace” — it was a young, blonde woman among a room full of male jihadis and reporters, that caught the world’s attention.
Her name is Charlotte Bellis, a New Zealand-born journalist who has been reporting on the ground from Kabul for Al Jazeera.
Despite dozens of fellow female journalists from the world’s media also stationed in the country’s capital, Bellis was the only female reporter granted permission to attend the Taliban’s press conference.
And she wasted no time.
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The 35-year-old forced the organisation’s leaders to address their attitude towards women after she took charge and asked the first question.
Bellis’ question centred around women’s rights and given women and girls are believed to be some of the most at risk people under the new Taliban regime — her question was of the utmost importance.
She asked whether Afghan woman can be assured the right to continue work and study and also asked if the new government would once more lock women and female children in their houses and refuse them education or jobs.
Under the Taliban’s previous regime, women were not allowed to work or have an education. They were also forced to wear burqas.
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To this, the Taliban responded that women’s rights will be guaranteed “within the limits of Islam”.
Using the opportunity to push forward their new, apparently more modern persona, Mujahed told Bellis the “Islamic Emirate” was “committed to the rights of women”. although only “within our framework of sharia”, suggesting women would still find their lives much restricted.
Almost immediately after she addressed the jihadis, the Kiwi journalist was praised online, not only by viewers, but by colleagues too.
“More power to you, Charlotte,” one Twitter user wrote.
“Thank you, Charlotte, but wow, I’m not confident of any women’s safety,” said another.
“Very proud to call @CharlotteBellis a colleague, countrywoman, and friend. She and our Kabul team are doing a tremendous job … the best and most up-to-date coverage as #Afghanistan slides back under Taliban control,” a colleague added.
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Bellis, who has also been using Twitter to give real-time updates of the unfolding Taliban takeover, shared a post in what appears to be after the press conference.
“Returned to my hotel to find hotel security replaced by Taliban members with AKs,” she wrote.
“They had parked their US-made humvees outside. Said good evening. They looked startled. And I walked into the lobby and ordered room service. Welcome to the new Kabul.”
It’s definitely the image the organisation wants to portray and by having the Kiwi journalist present among a sea full of men, with her hijab slightly pulled back to show her blonde hair, while questioning a Taliban leader, has been described as hugely symbolic.
In the regime’s previous incarnation, not only were female journalists barred, but a female alone in a room full of men was unthinkable.
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It is unclear why Bellis was the only female reporter specifically chosen to address the conference, however there’s suggestions it’s because her employer, Al Jazeera, might be expected to show more sympathy to the Taliban than western media outlets, according to The Australian.
Bellis, who has worked for Al Jazeera in Afghanistan since at least 2019, isn’t the only female journalist being commended on her handling of the organisation’s representatives.
Taliban spokesman Shail Shaheen, randomly called female Afghan-born Australian BBC reporter, Yalda Hakim, live on-air on Monday.
He launched into a speech in which he promised “peace” in the war-ravaged country. He also claimed the Taliban will respect the rights of women and allow them access to education.
“There should not be any confusion, we are sure the people of Afghanistan in the city of Kabul, that their properties and their lives are safe. There will be no revenge on anyone. We are the servants of the people and of this country,” he said.
Hakim’s colleagues praised her for maintaining her composure when she got the surprise call — and also for her probing interview.
As the Taliban try hard to push their new image, Afghan women are still not convinced they will be safe under the notorious group’s “new and peaceful” agenda.
Following the press conference, Bellis shared a report on Al Jazeera’s website that included a video of women speaking of their fear of “disappearing” under the new regime.
“I cannot believe them. People in Afghanistan never believe them,” one woman has said.
There’s also reports Taliban gangs are targeting children as young as 12, “going door-to-door” as they hunt for sex slaves after conquering Afghanistan.