A coalition of rights groups says 17 activists and reporters have been killed in Afghanistan since September, underscoring the growing dangers to civil society and independent media as the country faces increasing violence and uncertainty.
According to the Afghan Human Rights Defenders Committee, nine of those deaths came in the first five months of 2021.
Meanwhile, more than 200 human rights defenders and journalists reported receiving serious threats since September 2020, the group said.
"The timing of escalating attacks against human rights defenders, activists and journalists appears to be linked" to peace talks launched in Qatar in September 2020, the coalition of groups including Amnesty International said.
"It is vital to uphold and prioritize freedom of expression during this critical time in Afghanistan and for its future," it said, adding: "The progress made on creating safe space for human rights defenders especially women human rights defenders and journalists is at stake with the United States and NATO forces' full withdrawal announcement from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021."
Among the reporters killed in Afghanistan in recent months was RFE/RL correspondent Mohammad Ilyas Dayee, who was killed in a targeted bomb attack in Helmand Province in November.
Fighting has been soaring across Afghanistan amid the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. and international forces from the country by September.
Intra-Afghan peace efforts have stalled since the Western-backed government in Kabul and the Taliban last year began talks in the Qatari capital, Doha.
The U.S. pullout will be a major test for Afghan security forces, with U.S. generals and other officials expressing concerns in recent weeks that it might lead to the collapse of the Afghan government in the absence of progress on stalled peace talks with the Taliban.
Rights Groups Say 17 Activists, Reporters Killed In Afghanistan Over Past Eight Months