06.07.2017 - Social and Human Sciences Sector

A young journalist’s struggle for freedom of expression

Mortaza Behboudi © UNESCO / C. Alix

“It is impossible for people to truly understand what is happening in places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan without local voices and local reporters,” said Mortaza Behboudi, a young journalist and refugee from Afghanistan.

“My family left Afghanistan because of the war when I was just two years old and lived in Iran as refugees. Life as a refugee there is hard. We earn much less than Iranians and the cost of education, as well as an Identity card that must be renewed every 6 months, is prohibitively high. I started work when I was just 9 years of age and my father, a poet, has to work in construction to make ends meet.”

Determined to receive a university education, Mortaza left Iran at just 17 years of age and returned to Kabul, alone, to enroll in a bachelor’s degree in political science. There, he became interested in photography and began work as a photojournalist at a local weekly magazine, soon branching out into other media outlets.

“Many journalists have been killed in Afghanistan,” he said. “The war inflicted by the Taliban is the main source of violence in the country and since 2015, the Taliban and Islamic State have created information “black holes” all over the country. It was clear that I had to leave.”

“When I arrived in Paris, I knew no one and had nothing. I slept on the streets for 2 weeks before hearing about La Maison des Journalistes from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which provides a support and a safe place to stay for journalists that have had to leave their countries of origin because of their work.”

Since arriving in Paris, Mortaza has enrolled in a Masters Degree in International Relations at the Sorbonne and continues to work as a journalist, mainly covering refugee issues but also culture, sport and politics in France. In 2015, he was invited to attend COP21 by UNFCCC as a photojournalist and he also attended COP22 in Marrakech to cover the issue of people displaced by climate change.

“Listening to peoples’ stories, particularly those of refugees, is the only way to better understand what is going on in the world and the impact these issues have on peoples’ lives. For the Taliban, it is a crime to be a journalist, to protest, to go to university. But I am proud to be Afghan and I will continue to fight for freedom of expression and for stories like mine to be heard.”


UNESCO’s work with youth across all its programmes aims to empower young women and men, like Mortaza, with the skills they need as actors and leaders of social initiatives in their communities.

<- Back to: All news