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Female journalists targeted in Afghanistan

Farida Nekzad began receiving menacing calls on her mobile phone a half hour after arriving at the funeral of a fellow female journalist assassinated by gunmen.

“Daughter of America! We will kill you, just like we killed her,”’ she quoted the man on the phone as saying even as Nekzad was mourning Zakia Zaki, the owner of a radio station north of Kabul.

Zaki’s maimed body lay nearby, part of her face blown away by three attackers who entered her home and shot her seven times with pistol and automatic rifle fire in front of her 8-year-old son earlier this month.

“At least people can recognize her from one side of her face. We will shoot your face, and nobody will recognize you,”’ the caller warned the 29-year-old Nekzad before she hung up.

The lives of Afghan women and girls have improved vastly since the fall in 2001 of the Taliban, which stripped women of most rights and made them virtual prisoners in their own houses. In cities and some rural areas, they can now go to school and work outside the home.

But this month has seen a rising number of attempts to quash these advances with threats and violence.

Manizha Naderi, director of the rights group Women for Afghan Women, believes the recent attacks reflect a Taliban resurgence and spike in militant violence across the country. Afghan women journalists in particular are being targeted because of their high profiles.

“They (militants) want to make news, and targeting the journalists is a way to make news,” Naderi said. “They’re showing the world, ’We’re here and we’re still in charge of this country.”’

Women have played a large role in the country’s media advances the past six years, and several women work on TV news programs as readers and reporters. They are typically modestly dressed, with their hair and necklines carefully hidden under scarves.

Still, some Afghans think it is inappropriate for women to appear before the public.

When Afghans today talk about Shaima Rezayee, a popular music video show host shot to death in 2005, they speak in hushed tones — about the racy, un-Islamic way she dressed or behaved on TV, as if this justified her death.

And it appears Zaki may have been targeted because of her radio programming.

The radio host had been critical of local warlords who warned her to change the programming on her station. Two suspects being held for her murder are connected with the militant group Hezb-e-Islami, officials said.

In a second killing of a female journalist this month, Shokiba Sanga Amaaj, a newsreader for private Shamshad TV, was shot in her home in Kabul on June 1. Two family friends have been detained in the case.

Authorities say they do not know the motive for the killings of Zaki or Amaaj.

Threats in this war-torn and corrupt country are not uncommon.

Nekzad, who works for the news agency Pajhwok Afghan News, forwarded an e-mail to an Associated Press journalist that warned her, “We will kill you as soon as possible INSHA ALLAH” — if Allah, or God, wills it.

The message, dated June 8, accused her of sexual impropriety and of working for NATO. It was signed from Habib from Hezb-e-Islami, the same militant group authorities suspect in Zaki’s death. The authenticity of the e-mail could not be verified.

Nekzad said Afghans began paying attention to her fears only after she told foreign journalists, who took the dangers she faced seriously. She said she wondered if her role as a journalist could somehow have saved Zaki.

A year ago, Nekzad assigned a reporter to interview Zaki about death threats she had received. Zaki later decided against airing the story, so the Pajhwok reporter scrapped it and erased the videotape.

“If it were published, maybe the international community would have taken it more seriously, but after her death, it has no meaning,” Nekzad said. “Nobody paid attention, not even the international community or the government.”

Meanwhile, Nekzad has become sick with worry, changing her work schedule each day so potential attackers cannot track her routine. She sleeps in a different room of her house every night. She goes without sleep for days, and her speech is punctuated by a cough that she says is caused by stress.

“Maybe they will kill me after six months, after six days, after six minutes,” she said in a quiet room at the Pajhwok office. “We know that one day we will leave this world, but if you are informed that you will be killed, it is very, very bad. Every second kills you.”

Date posted: June 27, 2007 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 505