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Afghan women journalists under increasing attacks from fundamentalists

Shot dead: Shikeba Sanga Amaj was shot dead on May 31, 2007 in her home. She was the correspondent of Shamshad Private TV. According to her family, Shikeba shouted for her mother simultaneously when the gun fired and while her parents were running to her room. They were only in time to be witnesses over the bloody dead body of Shikeba. She was 22 and worked with Shashad TV.

Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has called on the authorities in Afghanistan to do everything possible to protect women journalists, several of whom have been attacked or threatened since the start of the year. One, Niloufar Habibi, has continued to receive death threats since leaving hospital after being stabbed on May 15 in the northwestern city of Herat and has to change residence every day.

“We are very worried about the growing number of attacks and threats against women journalists,” Paris-based RSF said in a statement. “Action must be urgently taken to put a stop to this violence. The government has a duty to investigate these incidents thoroughly and ensure that they do not go unpunished, especially as some of the victims have been forced to stop working in order to avoid further threats.”

RSF added: “Unfortunately, the Taliban are not the only ones to target women working in the media. Religious fundamentalists, warlords and local politicians help to create a climate of fear designed to marginalise women in Afghan society.”

A 22-year-old presenter on the local public television station, Herat TV, Habibi was stabbed in her home in Herat on May 15, two weeks after unidentified individuals threatened all public radio and TV employees. Fearing for their safety, three women resigned just a few days after the threats were made. Around 10 other men and women quickly followed suit. But Habibi had decided to keep working, despite many warnings.

Habibi told RSF she is very worried: “I was attacked twice in less than a week. The first time [on May 14] was after several phone calls. Two men and a woman stopped me on the way to the office and injured me with a knife. With a taxi driver acting as their accomplice, they drove me to the TV station and told me, ‘If you do not resign, the next time will be the end’.”

Habibi continued: “The next day, a woman knocked on my door and stabbed me when I opened. After I was released from hospital [on May 18], I was constantly followed by strangers. I have repeatedly changed my residence. I refuse to bow to the threats and I fear for my life.” Despite her appeals for help, she has still not received any police protection..

Several other journalists have been forced to leave the city. They include Khadijeh Ahadi, the deputy editor of Radio Faryad and host of a very popular programme in which people can question politicians about every day problems. After she received many threatening phone calls, grenades were thrown at her home on April 6 and 11. She was not injured but her house was badly damaged.

“We have been seeing attacks on news media and journalists for months, especially in Herat province,” Rahimullah Samandar, the head of the Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA), told RSF. “There have been eight to ten attacks on women journalists or young journalists this month. They want to stop TV programmes being broadcast and ban women from working on them. The inactivity of the authorities is unfortunately an important factor in the increase in these attacks.”

Another AIJA representative, Nighibolah Taieb, told RSF: “This situation is dangerous for our country. Those responsible for these attacks are the enemies of free expression. You should not forget that Herat province’s neighbours [in Iran] are worried about freedom of expression in our country and fear that the broadcasting of programmes will influence viewers on the other side of the border.”

Individuals claiming to represent the Taliban threatened women journalists in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in February. They told one of the women: “Take care. If you continue to show yourself on television, your sister, your mother or other members of your family could be kidnapped.” The journalists requested police protection but did not get it.

Date posted: May 21, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 670