Afghan journalists at risk

Published December 13, 2020

IN yet another blow to Afghan media and civil society, a young woman journalist-cum-activist was brutally gunned down along with her driver by unknown assailants in Nangarhar province this week. Malala Maiwind, a presenter for a local radio and TV channel, was targeted by gunmen — a dark reality that has become far too common for journalists working in the war-torn country — as she made her way to work. Tragically, Maiwind’s mother, who was also an activist, was killed in an attack five years earlier. A campaigner for women’s rights, Maiwind had told local news outlets that she had received threats; she was vocal about the challenges faced by women journalists in her country. The episode is chilling for many reasons, but mostly because it underscores that violence against the media has become normalised in Afghanistan. The last few months alone have been particularly bloody for journalists, activists and political figures. A popular former television presenter was killed last month along with two others when a bomb fixed to his car exploded near his home in Kabul. In a separate attack, a reporter for Radio Liberty was killed in a car bomb attack. Tragically, the recent spate of violence also saw the targeting of Saba Sahar, one of Afghanistan’s first female directors, who was shot at when she was in her car. Luckily, she survived, but there are scores of other men and women who did not.

Hope is a distant dream right now for the Afghan people. As their future is being negotiated by the government, the Afghan Taliban and the US, the spike in violence has crushed the aspirations of citizens, generations of whom have waited for peace. Throughout, journalists have risked their lives and worked under unimaginable circumstances to deliver accurate information, often for low remuneration. The bravery of Afghan journalists is exemplary, but the death toll among the media fraternity is utterly tragic. The Afghan government must protect journalists, particularly women, as the space for their voices is rapidly shrinking.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2020

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