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A Boeing 747 departing Kabul Airport. Photo: Eliezer Gabriel/Wikipedia Commons.
A Boeing 747 departing Kabul Airport. Photo: Eliezer Gabriel/Wikipedia Commons.

PEN Joins Calls to Expedite Visas for Afghans

Writers’ and human rights organization PEN America on August 17 called for the US government to “act swiftly to offer protection to writers and cultural actors in Afghanistan.” The New York–based nonprofit additionally urged its “members and allies” to contact their representatives in Congress and the Senate to ask for support for dissenting writers and cultural figures trapped in the country, which last week fell to the Taliban. The militant Islamist group took control of Afghanistan within weeks of the start of the planned pullout of US troops there, announced in April and scheduled to be completed by September 11.

“The many courageous Afghan writers, cultural actors, journalists, and activists—especially women—who have exercised and defended the right to freedom of expression are facing grave and imminent threats,” said Summer Lopez, PEN America’s senior director of free expression programs, in a statement.

PEN’s call for support comes just days after its parent organization, the London-based PEN International, publicly denounced the killing of two of its members, who were allegedly murdered by the Taliban. According to PEN, former journalist and presidential spokesman Dawa Khan Menapal was murdered after speaking out against the killing of poet Abdullah Atefi, a fellow PEN Afghanistan member. Though the Taliban are not definitively known to have murdered Atefi, who was forced from his home and shot in the street on August 4, Amrullah Saleh, until recently Afghanistan’s vice president, attributed the killing to the group. Two days later, Menapal, who was working for the now-defunct government media and information center, was assassinated as he left his job to attend prayers. The Taliban, through spokesman Zabiullah Muhajid, claimed responsibility for the killing. In its August 17 appeal, PEN America noted that the killings highlight the “grave threat writers and others in the country may now face.”

Joining PEN in urging the US government to aid endangered Afghan writers is the New York–based Committee to Protect Journalists. The nonprofit, which promotes freedom of the press across the globe, on August 16 issued a demand for safe passages out of the country for Afghan journalists, saying that it had received and vetted reports of at least three hundred journalists who were trying to escape.

“The United States has a special responsibility to Afghan journalists, who created a thriving and vibrant information space and covered events in their country for international media,” said CPJ executive director Joel Simon in a statement. “The Biden administration can and should do all within its power to protect press freedom and stand up for the rights of the vulnerable Afghan reporters, photographers, and media workers.”