India and the world community must support Afghan journalists

Jatin Desai
Saturday, 5 May 2018

Various journalists’ organisations including Committee for the Protection of Journalists, Reporters without Borders etc, have condemned the attacks on the journalists. The international community has also condemned it but there needs to be something more. Indian journalist organisations should have played a pro-active role by expressing solidarity with the journalist community of Afghanistan. 

The killing of 10 journalists, including a woman journalist, in a single day in Afghanistan on April 30 has shocked the world. It was the deadliest day for the media since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001. Journalism in conflict zones and especially in countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, etc, is very difficult and it needs courage to write the truth. It is only through them that the world comes to know about the prevailing scenario in the conflict zones.

These 10 journalists were killed in two separate incidents in the capital city of Kabul and Khost. In Kabul, in two bomb blasts, more than 30 people, including 9 journalists, were killed. The journalists rushed to the scene of the first blast to report and seeing them in a big number, a suicide bomber blew himself up. The suicide bomber was dressed like a photographer. Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks. 

Some of the journalists killed in the blasts were working for the international agencies and keeping the world updated on Afghanistan. They were Afghan citizens. AFP’s Shah Marai was with the French agency for around two decades. He worked with the agency even during the Taliban regime. Then he was a driver and gradually became the chief photographer. BBC’s Afghan service reporter Ahmed Shah was shot dead in the eastern city of Khost. Women journalists face more dangers, as they are under constant threat not only from militants but also from men who do not want women to work. But, they continue to work. It is the most positive thing I observed in Afghanistan in my earlier visits.

In 2009, in southern Philippine’s Maguindanao province, 58 people, including 32 journalists, were killed when they were riding in a convoy. They were rounded up by militants and shot dead. Again it’s a conflict zone. In 2015, three terrorists attacked French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s Paris office and shot dead 12 journalists. These are two worst attacks on the journalists and now Afghanistan is added. On Thursday, May 3, we celebrated World Press Freedom Day and globally we are witnessing how journalists are harassed, tortured and killed for writing the truth. The journalists need an atmosphere where they can write without any fear or favour.

The writing or showing the truth is not easy, especially, in a conflict zone. By speaking truth, most of the time, one hurts either militants or establishment. Both take criticism seriously and journalists have to suffer. Generally, in all conflict zones, local people work for the international agencies and it is they who provide news. First, in the conflict zone, outsiders are never welcome. Journalists from outside find it virtually impossible to understand the local languages, dynamics and also they can be targeted easily. In such a situation, local journalists work for international agencies and provide news. They face threats, intimidation and violence simply for doing their job.

The Kabul attack was the worst kind of attack on Afghan journalists. The killing of journalists is an attack on freedom of expression. It is also a war crime. Under the laws of war, deliberate attacks on civilians are war crimes. Afghanistan Federation of Journalists said, ”This terrorist attack is a war crime and an organised attack on the Afghan media.” They have demanded an investigation into the killing from the UN. 

The bomb blasts took place near NATO office and in the Green Zone also indicate a serious lack of security and intelligence failure. Recently, Afghanistan is witnessing an increase in the terrorists’ activities and bombings. The regional co-operation between Afghanistan and Pakistan against terrorists is the need of the hour. The easy movement of terrorists between the two countries must be curbed.

Traditionally, India and Afghanistan share excellent relations. It is the responsibility of the international community to stand solidly behind Afghan people and journalists. Journalists in conflict zones are killed for speaking the truth. We must support and encourage such journalists who are prepared to sacrifice their lives for the better, peaceful Afghanistan.

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