UK agency's role in secret Afghan filming

Footage shot by members of an underground Afghan women’s group who risk their lives secretly filming under the Taliban regime is being distributed by a London-based news agency thanks to a deal signed just before the 11 September attacks.

Frontline News agreed a deal with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) in August after its production manager, Sara Shammas, sent an e-mail offering to distribute its footage documenting the killing and beating of women.

Demand for footage from the Taliban-controlled areas has meant that film sent each week by RAWA has been used by news broadcasters around the world, including ABC, NBC and the Larry King Show on CNN.

Saira Shah’s Beneath the Veil, which was recently repeated on Channel 4, included footage – shot by RAWA members with cameras concealed under their burqas – of women being executed in a football stadium.

Shammas e-mails RAWA’s headquarters in Quetta, Pakistan, outlining the footage needed by Frontline News and one of the women smuggles her requests into Kabul.

"I send them details of what we need – such as pictures of bomb damage – and tell them what questions to ask, like ‘How has your family suffered in the attacks’," said Shah. "They then smuggle the video to Quetta and it’s sent down the line to Frontline."

RAWA members risk their lives getting the footage, as the Taliban has decreed that women who are caught will be stoned to death. As the authorities are aware that footage shot inside Kabul is being used by news networks around the world, the danger of being caught has been heightened.

"They are just ordinary women willing to take the risk of using a camera," said Shammas.

Cash raised by the sale of the footage to the news networks is used by RAWA to distribute aid inside Afghanistan.

Western journalists are expected to be going into Kabul in the near future, so demand for the RAWA footage could begin to fall off.

"It probably won’t be as valuable as it has been once other journalists start going in," said Shammas. "But I think they will still have the advantage of being able to get access to people inside Kabul. A lot of people will be very scared of speaking to the press, but they will trust someone from their own community."

By Julie Tomlin

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