The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says justice for 17 Afghan journalists murdered over the past decade is likely to remain elusive after the Taliban’s takeover and the collapse of state institutions.
“Taliban leaders appear even less likely than Afghanistan’s previous government to respond to local and international calls to end the country’s culture of impunity for crimes against journalists,” the New York-based media rights group said on October 28 with the release of its 2021 Impunity Index.
As in the past two years, Afghanistan ranked fifth on the index designed to spotlight countries where journalists are murdered and their killers go unpunished.
But the situation for journalists has deteriorated since the Taliban took control in mid-August as U.S.-led international forces withdrew from Afghanistan, with hundreds of media workers fleeing the country out of fear of the fundamentalist group’s harsh record against the media.
“Promises made by the Taliban’s leadership to protect press freedom rang hollow within days of the takeover as its fighters carried out scores of violations against media workers, including beatings and arbitrary detentions,” the CPJ said.
Overall, over the past decade, 226 of the 278 journalists targeted around the globe have been murdered with impunity, according to the index.
Somalia topped the list for a seventh straight year, followed by Syria, Iraq, and South Sudan.
Mexico, the Philippines, Brazil, Pakistan, and Russia rounded out the top 10 countries on the index, which calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population to determine a ranking. This index does not include cases of journalists killed in combat or while on dangerous assignments.
In Afghanistan, 17 local journalists were murdered over the past 10 years -- including five in 2020 alone -- and their killers walked free.
At least two of those killed last year -- RFE/RL's Radio Azadi reporter Elyas Dayee and freelancer Rahmatullah Nikzad -- had received threats from the Taliban prior to their deaths, leading CPJ to conclude that there “seems little chance that Afghanistan’s new Taliban government will seek out the killers.”
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s judicial system is collapsing, signaling that impunity for killers may now become further entrenched.
The CPJ said that Afghan journalists also remain at risk of being targeted by the local affiliate of the Islamic State extremist group, which claimed responsibility for an April 2018 suicide bomb attack that killed at least nine journalists as well as the retaliatory murder of journalist Malalai Maiwand in late 2020.