Gunmen shot and killed a female TV anchor in eastern Afghanistan early Thursday, officials said, adding to the 42 journalists and media workers have been killed while doing their jobs this year, according to the International Federation of Journalists’ annual tally released Wednesday.
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Malalai Maiwand, a reporter at Enikas Radio and TV in Nangarhar, was killed along with her driver in an attack on their vehicle in Jalalabad, capital of the eastern province of Nangarhar, taking the total number of journalists and media workers killed this year in Afghanistan to 10.
Two Afghan journalists were killed in separate bombings in Afghanistan last month. The international press freedom group Reporters Without Borders has called Afghanistan one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists.
Enikas has been targeted before, with its owner, Engineer Zalmay, kidnapped for ransom in 2018.
The attackers opened fire on Maiwand's car soon after she left her house, said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the governor.
No one has claimed responsibility, but an Islamic State affiliate is headquartered in eastern Afghanistan and has claimed most of the recent attacks on civilians in Afghanistan. The Taliban also operate in the area.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied the group's involvement in the incident.
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In addition to working as a TV and radio presenter, Maiwand was also an activist who advocated for the rights of Afghan women and children.
Maiwand is also not the first of her family to be targeted. Five years ago, her mother, also an activist, was killed by unknown gunmen.
"With the killing of Malalai, the working field for female journalists is getting more smaller and the journalists may not dare to continue their jobs the way they were doing before," Nai, an organisation supporting media in Afghanistan, said in a statement.
The Afghan government, German embassy, EU delegation and British ambassador condemned growing attacks on journalists and activists.
'Danger and threats'
According to International Federation of Journalists, the annual death toll is around the same level as when the global journalists’ union began its grim annual count of deaths 30 years ago and is part of a recent downward trend.
But the federation warned against complacency in a report that will be officially released Thursday to mark the International Day for Human Rights. The release also coincides with an online conference on press freedom organized by the Dutch government and the United Nations’ cultural agency, UNESCO, that opened Wednesday.
“The decrease of journalists’ killings in recent years cannot disguise the deadly danger and threats journalists continue to face for doing their work,” IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said.
In the three decades the IFJ has been keeping count, 2,658 journalists have been killed.
The report also states that at least 235 are currently in prison in cases related to their work.
“These are not just statistics. They are our friends and colleagues who have dedicated their lives to, and paid the ultimate price for, their work as journalists,” Bellanger said. “We don’t just remember them but we will pursue every case, pressing governments and law enforcement authorities to bring their murderers to justice.”
Mexico topped the 2020 list of countries where the most journalists were killed, for the fourth time in five years, with 13 killings, followed by Pakistan with five. Afghanistan, India, Iraq and Nigeria recorded three killings each.
The IFJ, which has 600,000 members in 150 countries, also counted scores of journalists who have been jailed, often without charge, by governments keen to escape scrutiny for their actions.
“These findings shine a spotlight on gross abuse by governments who seek to shield themselves against accountability by jailing journalists and denying them due process,” said IFJ President Younes Mjahed. “The staggering numbers of our colleagues in detention is a sober reminder of the exacting price journalists around the globe pay for their pursuit of truth in the public interest.”
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said the Hague conference would highlight the essential role of reporters.
“Not only are journalists conveying vital information during the pandemic, they also help us distinguish all manner of truth from falsehood, which is fundamental to our social contract,” she said.
Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok opened the conference and was meeting with dozens of other ministers to discuss better protection.
“Journalists worldwide must be protected better so that they can perform their role as watchdogs of democracy,” Blok said.