Journalists in Afghanistan continue to walk a tightrope

Journalists in Afghanistan continue to live dangerously, and according to fresh reports, 2014 has been the deadliest year for journalists in this country.

Journalists in Afghanistan have to walk a tightrope. Reporting daily events, under dangerous and life-threatening conditions, can be a daunting task. Over the years, many journalists have suffered casualties in various incidents of violence across the country. But, despite ominous threats and heavy odds, they have upheld the highest ideals of journalism under extremely trying conditions.

Security is the biggest challenge for journalists who have to report from highly volatile areas. They face threats from armed rebels, government officials, power lords and criminals. According to Nai – supporting open media in Afghanistan, 2014 was the deadliest year for journalists in Afghanistan. Many journalists lost their lives and many suffered serious injuries while on duty.

Addressing media persons in Kabul recently, Sediqullah Tawhidi, Head of Nai, said 125 cases of violence against journalists were reported by Nai in 2014, marking 64 percent increase from the previous year. In 2013, 76 cases of violence had been registered.

In 2014, Nai registered 8 cases of murder, 9 cases of injuries, 20 cases of detention, 38 cases of harassment, and 50 cases of insults and intimidation against journalists in Afghanistan.

According to Afghanistan Journalists’ Center (AFJC), an independent body working to defend the rights of Afghan journalists, at least 46 journalists has been killed in Afghanistan since 1994.

Noor Ahmad Noori, a journalist from southern Helmand province, who worked for local radio station and freelanced for New York Times, was killed by unidentified assailants in March 2014. His body was found by local police in a garbage bag in Lashkarga area of Helmand. The post-mortem report suggested that he was severely tortured before being killed.

A Swedish journalist, Nils Horner, who was South Asia correspondent for Svergies Radio, was shot dead in high-security Wazir Akbar Khan locality of Kabul in March 2014. Sveriges Radio's CEO Cilla Benkö, in a statement called it “one of the worst days in the history of Sveriges Radio”.

In 2014, Nai registered 8 cases of murder, 9 cases of injuries, 20 cases of detention, 38 cases of harassment, and 50 cases of insults and intimidation against journalists in Afghanistan

Ahmad Shah Naimi, a young journalist who worked with Radio Nawa and Sabah TV, was killed in a suicide attack in Kart e Naw area of Kabul same month.

Sardar Ahmad, senior reporter in Agence France Presse’s Kabul bureau, and his family were killed in an attack on Serena Hotel a day before the Afghan New Year, on March 20, 2014. His youngest son Abuzar, barely 3 year old that time was the only member of the family to survive the attack. Following his killing, journalists in Kabul announced the temporary boycott of Taliban coverage.

Anya Nideringass, who worked with Associated Press, was killed by an Afghan police officer in eastern Khost province on April 4, 2014, while she was covering elections. According to reports, the police officer was arrested following the incident.

Khalid Yaqobi, who worked for a local radio station in Mazar Sharif, was shot dead by unknown assailants at his home in Balkh province. Palwasha Tookhi, a female journalist who also worked for a local radio station in Mazar Sharif, was stabbed by knife outside her home.

Zubari Hatami, a young photojournalist who worked for Mitra Television, succumbed to his injuries ten days after he was critically injured in a suicide attack at Esteqlal High School, Kabul. He passed away on December 21 and his tragic and untimely demise was widely condoled by the media fraternity in Afghanistan.

Following the attack on Esteqlal High School, Taliban issued a statement warning media groups and civil society institutions in Afghanistan to refrain from maligning the Taliban movement against “western invaders”. The statement posted on social networking sites said they will target the media and civil society groups, who support the cause of “western invaders”.

Taken aback by the unremitting violence against journalists, media fraternity in Afghanistan, following the killing of Hatami, again decided to temporarily boycott Taliban coverage. Journalists asked the government to constitute a committee that would work to safeguard media freedom in Afghanistan and ensure safety and security of journalists working under trying conditions.

Nai also took an initiative to set up Journalists’ Legacy Fund to provide financial assistance to the families of slain journalists in Afghanistan. According to Nai officials, a steering committee has been appointed to decide on the administration of this fund.

Among those who have contributed money to the fund include first vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, prominent trader Noorullah Daudzai, and Kabul Mayor.

While, the initiative has been welcomed by media fraternity in Afghanistan, they feel more could be done. “It is a commendable initiative, but journalists must have insurance cover and job security especially in a place like Afghanistan,” says Fawad Nasiri, reporter with a private news channel.

Nai has asked the new Afghan government to adhere to the commitments they have made to Afghan journalists. Among the demands include review of cases pertaining to killing of journalists over the past 13 years and bring perpetrators to justice, strengthening the institutions of justice, making security agencies accountable, supporting the media initiatives that seek to expose cases of corruption in public sector.

That is perhaps the only way to strengthen media, which is hailed as the fourth pillar of society, in Afghanistan and preventing violence against law-abiding journalists.

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