WASHINGTON/PRAGUE – Twenty years ago, on January 30, 2002, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Radio Azadi relaunched broadcasting to Afghanistan in the Dari and Pashto languages. RFE/RL’s broadcasts resumed less than five months after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. and nearly a decade after the Dari and Pashto services were closed down in 1993 as part of an overall restructuring of RFE/RL operations following the end of the Cold War. Despite last year’s withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and return of the Taliban to power, Radio Azadi continues to serve the Afghan people as a trusted and reliable source of news, analysis, and responsible discussion – on radio and, especially, on digital platforms.
Radio Azadi’s reporting on politics, extremism, corruption, culture, and minority issues under-reported by other media, as well as its programs aimed at women and the country’s near-majority youth population, have consistently made it one of the country’s most popular and trusted media outlets. According to a December 2019 USAGM survey, 47 percent of adults in Afghanistan listen to Radio Azadi every week. Since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, Azadi has focused on how radically life has changed for ordinary Afghans, particularly women and ethnic and religious minorities. Radio Azadi’s call-in shows and roundtables also continue to give a platform for ordinary Afghans to talk about their experiences under Taliban rule.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly congratulated Radio Azadi on the milestone. “Since its relaunch, Radio Azadi has been a trusted friend and partner to the Afghan people, in good times and bad. Today, when so many of the achievements of the past twenty years are at risk, RFE/RL is committed to maintaining Radio Azadi as the place where Afghanistan’s voiceless can be heard, and the country’s new rulers can be held accountable for their actions.”
Radio Azadi marked its anniversary by posting a special video report looking back at its twenty years of operation, a photo gallery of its journalists on assignment over the years and a video of colleagues sharing their experiences and memories of working at Radio Azadi. It also hosted a call-in show during which many listeners expressed their gratitude to Radio Azadi and spoke about the impact of Azadi on their lives. A second call-in show on January 31 focused on the impact of Radio Azadi on Afghan women’s lives. RFE/RL has also released brief interviews with Radio Azadi journalists, including Qadir Habib, Mustafa Sarwar, and Malali Bashir.
Throughout Radio Azadi’s twenty years in Afghanistan, its journalists have endured death threats and other forms of harassment from Taliban and Islamic State forces – trends that intensified prior to the Taliban takeover. The service has lost four colleagues in the past four years – Maharram Durrani, Abadullah Hananzai, and Sabawoon Kakar, who were killed along with at least 22 others on April 30, 2018 in a coordinated bomb attack in Kabul, and respected Helmand correspondent Mohammad Ilyas Dayee, who died in a targeted car bombing that also injured his younger brother.
The changing reality of producing journalism in Afghanistan forced RFE/RL to take dramatic steps to protect its staff, including the closure of its Kabul bureau, and evacuation of threatened local journalists from the country. Many former Radio Azadi staff remain in Afghanistan, ineligible for refugee status under U.S. government or international resettlement programs. Their situation remains highly tenuous.
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to more than 37 million people every week in 27 languages and 23 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed 7 billion times on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram/IGTV in FY2021. RFE/RL is an editorially independent media company funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media.