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Slain Afghan Journalists Praised For Courage On World Press Freedom Day

Mourners pray and light candles to pay tribute to Afghan journalists killed in a April 30 suicide attack in Kabul.
Mourners pray and light candles to pay tribute to Afghan journalists killed in a April 30 suicide attack in Kabul.

KABUL -- Afghanistan's slain journalists were remembered on World Press Freedom Day -- May 3 – just three days after the deadliest attack on the country's media since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.

Ten journalists were killed on April 30 -- nine by an Islamic State (IS) suicide bomber in Kabul and another in the eastern province of Khost -- in what all appeared to have been targeted attacks.

The attacks killed two RFE/RL journalists and an RFE/RL trainee, an AFP photographer, a BBC reporter, and journalists from Afghanistan's Tolo News, 1TV, and Mashal TV.

Omar Waraich, Amnesty International's deputy director for South Asia, said on May 3 that Afghanistan’s journalists are "among the bravest in the world."

"Working in some of the most difficult conditions, they have faced threats, intimidation, and violence for simply doing their jobs," Waraich said.

The killings have shaken Afghanistan's tight-knit journalist community, where many reporters and photographers are close friends and colleagues who look out for one another as they work in an increasingly hostile environment.

But they have remained defiant, with dozens of Afghan news editors and executives returning to the site of the Kabul bombings hours later on April 30 in protest.

"World Press Freedom Day reminds me and my colleagues of the importance of reporting -- reporting for a vibrant democracy," said Parwiz Kawa, editor-in-chief of the Hasht-e-Subh Daily newspaper.

'Unfathomable Crime'

1TV editor-in-chief Abdullah Khenjani said May 3 was a "mourning day" for the broadcaster, which lost a reporter and cameraman in the April 30 blast.

Khenjani said his colleagues ae heartbroken, "especially when we see the empty chairs... in our newsroom."

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said the deliberate killing of journalists in Afghanistan was "an unfathomable crime," and the those killed in the April 30 attacks "embodied courage and hope for their country."

"Afghan journalists who work in an increasingly hostile environment deserve more support and protection," said Lotfullah Najafizada, director of Tolo News.

Killed Defending Freedom

Afghanistan was ranked in 2017 by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) as the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists.

Afghan media outlets have condemned the government's failure to protect them, particularly at the scene of suicide attacks where secondary blasts are a constant concern.

In London on May 3, around 100 journalists held a vigil outside the BBC's Broadcasting House to pay tribute to the fallen journalists in Afghanistan, observing a minute's silence.

In Pakistan, where fears of militant attacks as well as government crackdowns are growing, journalists marked World Press Freedom Day with a protest march in Islamabad.

They carried photos of fallen colleagues, including those from Afghanistan, and banners with slogans like "Killed but not silenced."

Targeting Of Journalists

Pakistan also is considered one of the most dangerous places for media workers, with journalists caught between militants and the military.

Enforced disappearances are on the rise, newspaper columns are being censored by authorities, and TV channels have been forced off the air for failing to follow the government's official line.

The Islamabad office of Radio Mashaal, a Pashto-language service of RFE/RL, was closed by Pakistani authorities on January 19 on the orders of the ISI intelligence agency -- which accused Radio Mashaal journalists of threatening Pakistan's unity, national security, and reputation.

Russia's Ministry of Justice has designated RFE/RL as a "foreign agent."

RFE/RL journalists are serving jail sentences on politically motivated charges or are being held incommunicado in Ukraine's Russian-occupied Crimea region and Russia-backed separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.

RFE/RL journalists and their families also have faced abuse and crackdowns by authorities in Iran, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.

“The targeting of journalists anywhere must stop,” Kent, the RFE/RL president, said.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, AFP, and BBC

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