Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Deadliest Day for Afghan Media

Reporters rally to insist that they will not be intimidated into silence.
By IWPR Afghanistan

The Afghan journalist community has been left devastated by a day of violence in which media workers were specifically targeted.   

A twin suicide bombing in the Shash Darak area of Kabul on April 30 killed 29 people, including nine journalists. On the same day, longstanding IWPR contributor Ahmad Shah was shot dead by unknown gunmen in Khost province.

The 29-year-old had written for IWPR for the last five years and was currently employed by the BBC. His last feature story for IWPR, about local officials failing to deliver on infrastructure promises in Khost, was published only three months ago.

(See Afghan Entrepreneurs Bemoan Lack of State Support).

In Kabul, the initial attack was followed up by a second suicide bomber, this time carrying a camera and posing as a reporter, with the specific intention of targeting security forces and reporters as they arrived on the scene.

Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack and made clear that they had indeed intended to kill media workers.

A diverse and free media environment is often cited as one of the major achievements of post-2001 Afghanistan and one that has helped make the public much more politically and socially aware.

But multiple challenges remain, primarily the threat of harassment and violence, and journalist groups have repeatedly called on the government to do more to protect them.

“This terrorist attack is a war crime and an organised attack on the Afghan media,” the Afghanistan Federation of Journalists said in a statement, demanding a UN investigation. “The attack in the heart of Kabul and in the Green Zone indicates a serious lack of security by the government.”

In the aftermath of the Kabul attack, journalists and civil society activists rallied at the site of the explosion in a show of solidarity and defiance.

Sidiquallah Tawhidi, the head of the Afghan journalists safety committee, told the crowd that the attack was intended to intimidate the media as a whole.

 “Our presence here now means that such criminal actions cannot stop our efforts,” he continued. “Wherever the terrorists carry out a suicide attack and kill us, we will appear there to carry on our work.”

Ahmad Nader Naderi, the head of the administrative reform and civil service commission, also attended the protest.

“The crime that happened here today will not affect the future performance of the Afghan media, he said, adding that it was a black day in the history of Afghanistan.

IWPR country director Noorrahman Rahmani said that the day of violence had been a deliberate attempt to silence those speaking out about injustice.

“Attacks on the Afghan media and the journalists have increased since last year,” he continued. “A major reason for the rise can be linked to the fears the anti-government elements and their foreign backers may have about ordinary Afghans knowing more about the realities of the ongoing conflicts through these brave journalists and a vibrant media.

“While these attacks will undoubtedly impact on the journalists and their work, they are committed to continuing their work as before.”

Danish Karokhail, director of Pajhwok news agency, agreed, adding, “The Afghan media witnessed significant improvements in recent years, so the enemy – in order to halt such progress – targeted journalists to threaten and censor them.”

Abdul Mujeeb Khalvetgar, executive director of Nai Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan said, “The incident caused casualties on a scale unprecedented over the past 17 years.”

One journalist in attendance, Salma Rasa, said she was in shock after losing co-workers in the bombing.

“An attack on reporters is an attack on freedom of speech and causes ignorance,” she said. “We see that large number of journalists, even more than the number of security forces, reach the sites of terrorist attacks to cover it, and that’s why we lost so many reporters in  oday’s attack.”

According to a report by the Afghan journalists safety committee published on January 11, 2018, 2017 was the deadliest year on record for Afghan reporters.

Sabir Fahim, the director of Media Watch Afghanistan, said, “Over the past 17 years, 90 reporters and journalists have lost their lives; 22 were killed in the year 2017 alone.”

Media organisations have repeatedly called on the government to more forcefully prosecute instances of violence and harassment of media workers.

Jamshid Rasouly, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, told IWPR that they were investigating 13 cases of violence against journalists reported to them in the previous year.