Usually, her posts would show her cooking or exploring Kabul alongside her friends, in bright clothes and with cheerful music playing in the background. But before Sadeqi even began speaking, the dispirited expression on her face told viewers that this one was different.
“Since we are not allowed to work and go out of our homes, we all had to record you a last video,” she began. “And through this video say goodbye to you all.”
She told viewers she was too scared to walk the street, and asked them to pray for her. “Life in Kabul has become very difficult, especially for those who used to be free and happy,” she said. “I wish it is a bad dream, I wish we can wake up one day,” she added, stopping at times to stifle tears. “But I know that it is not possible …. and it is a reality that we are finished.”
Sadeqi was in the final year of study at a journalism institute in Kabul. She had recently joined the Afghan Insider YouTube channel, whose videos have amassed more than 24 million views. They gave weekly glimpses into the lives of young content creators, who had been raised amid the relative safety of a post-Taliban age. They also allowed Sadeqi and others to support their families, while following their own aspirations.
“I was working to make enough to pay for my daily expenses and for my education,” Sadeqi said in her last video. “Most of the families in the city are just waiting for (one) meal for the day to survive now.”
Her death has rattled a broad community of young YouTubers who have enjoyed the freedoms afforded to Afghans in the two decades since the last Taliban regime was removed — many of whom do not even remember the pre-9/11 days.
And it shone a devastating new light on her final video — an emotional eight-minute goodbye to those who had watched her work. “Dear friends! We are both mentally affected and physically have become vulnerable,” she said. Sadeqi would usually co-host videos with her friend, Rohina Afshar, but the pair were forced to record their last messages separately, for fear of leaving their homes.
Even before the attack at the airport, many vloggers had gone dark. They included Afshar, who confirmed her friend’s death to CNN.
“I was the only breadwinner in my family as my father is dead and my brother is not old enough to work,” she told CNN. “With the salary I used to get from the YouTube channel I was paying for all our expenses. Now I am jobless, I am too scared to go out and we have got no income at all. I don’t know how can we survive this situation.
“Besides economic hardships, I am very worried because a lot of people know my face as I used to work for media,” she said. “I have been hearing rumors that certain groups identify girls who worked for media like me so that they can go after them. I don’t feel safe at all.”
Afshar, who said her life has been “flipped upside down” in the space of just a few days, reflects the desperation of countless women and girls across Afghanistan. “In the last ten days or so that I am at home I am totally depressed,” she said. “I don’t know what to do.”
YouTube has become a prominent platform in Afghanistan in recent years, shining a light on the country’s nascent democracy and providing a valuable platform for aspiring journalists like Sadeqi and Afshar.
But Khawja Samiullah Sediqi, who worked at Afghan Insider, now fears for those who produced videos for his and other channels.
“In the last couple of years dozens of young and talented Afghan boys and girls started working for YouTube channels, not only to make a living, but to find a platform to prove themselves and the progress Afghans had made in the last two decades,” he told CNN.
“But in the last couple of weeks everything changed,” he said. “We stopped producing new stuff, we are scared of being targeted, intimidated or harmed.”
One of the channel’s reporters was physically attacked while reporting from Kabul airport, he said. “We are too afraid to use our right of speaking freely and we are totally unsure about tomorrow.”
And Sediqi said he is concerned that the plight of young content creators, spread across the new media landscape, may be overlooked by the global community.
“I know many journalists working for traditional media have been provided with help and support by their employers and other organizations protecting journalists, but no one has paid attention to us,” he said. “Working for social media platforms like YouTube is somehow a new phenomenon in Afghanistan, but the nature of our work is the same as any other TV channel.”
“We became a bridge between Afghans living outside and poor people living in the country,” a fellow female YouTuber for another channel told CNN. “We are in a difficult situation. They shouldn’t abandon us like this.”
CNN is not naming the YouTuber, who like Sadeqi is in her early 20s, due to safety concerns. “Yesterday, it was Najma’s turn. Maybe tomorrow it is mine, and the next day, another girl’s,” she said. “Najma had found my number from somewhere and she texted me (to ask) if I was OK. I still have those text messages … even until now I can’t believe that she is gone.”
“I feel so hopeless; all my dreams were crushed. I even can no longer help my younger brothers, (and) my mother who also can’t go to work now,” she added of her life under Taliban rule. “We are in a difficult situation. They shouldn’t abandon us like this.”
“Today’s Taliban are different from the previous ones since they have access to smartphones now, they have access to the internet,” she said. “Some of them probably can easily recognize me … since the day they have entered Kabul, I have not gone out of the house at all.”