Who is Charlotte Bellis: A pregnant New Zealand journalist based in Afghanistan for work had to turn to the hardline Taliban for refuge after her own country seemingly abandoned her over its COVID-19 regulations. Charlotte Bellis elaborated her harrowing experience in a tell-all piece online earlier this week, appealing for a way back home.
Bellis is the journalist behind the voice that significantly asked Taliban leaders, some days into their takeover of Afghanistan on August 15 last year, what their approach towards women’s rights would be during their new regime. She was only one of three women present at the press conference by the fundamentalist organisation.
Her question was bold, and important, in view of the Taliban’s notorious history of gender oppressive directives. More on women under Taliban here.
Working for Al Jazeera and stationed in the capital of Kabul, Bellis also secured an interview with Taliban leader Abdul Qahar Balkhi, who is serving as the foreign affairs minister on the country’s new government.
“The Taliban have always treated me respectfully and they’ve never intimidated me. I’m surprised at the image of them around the world, that they’re so inhuman,” she said in an interview with Capsule, after her direct questioning with the Taliban put her in the spotlight.
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She is making headlines once more for allegedly having gotten help from the Taliban instead of her own country’s government on getting protection during pregnancy. An op-ed penned by her for NZ Herald, dated January 28, details the difficulties she and her partner Jim, a photographer with The New York Times, faced after she got pregnant.
She found out she was expecting a baby with her partner in September 2021. She was in Qatar at the time, having returned from Afghanistan where her company had sent her on assignment. “It is illegal to be pregnant and unmarried in Qatar,” she writes. She moved out to Belgium, where Jim hails from.
In an Instagram post at the time, and also in her open letter, Bellis said she hoped to welcome her baby in her home country. She began applying to New Zealand’s MIQ (Managed Isolation and Quarantine) lottery that gives spots to people returning to the country during the pandemic but was unsuccessful.
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Given she was not a resident of Belgium, Bellis’ stay could extend only to a limited period and the only other place she could go to, in this situation, was Afghanistan. As per her piece, she connected to a Taliban official and explained her situation to him, even explicitly stating she was unmarried and pregnant – a taboo in many societies.
“Yes, yes we respect you both and you are foreigners, that is up to you… Just tell people you’re married and if it escalates, call us. Don’t worry. Everything will be fine,” was apparently the response she received from the official.
“When the Taliban offers you – a pregnant, unmarried woman – safe haven, you know your situation is messed up,” she writes, adding that getting pregnant can be a “death sentence” in Afghanistan owing to the humanitarian, economic, health crisis.
Bellis claims she and her partner’s application for emergency MIQ spots were rejected too. After her case made some noise in the media and political circles, she says authorities “quietly overturned” their earlier decision on her MIQ application which now flashes a sign of being under review.
She points out the irony of the situation when she asked the Taliban about women’s rights last year and a few months later is asking her own government the same. Bellis states, “I am writing this because I believe in transparency… Jacinda Ardern is better than this.”