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Remembering RFE/RL's Fallen Journalists

The memorial, placed in the main corridor of the Wilbur J. Cohen building in Washington, D.C., honors RFE/RL journalists slain in the line of duty.

The freedom to impart, receive, and share information is fundamental to every other human right. A free press gives people the opportunity to learn about their own communities and the world and make informed decisions. It celebrates human achievement, gives individuals a voice, and holds power to account.

RFE/RL journalists, often at great personal risk, work to spread knowledge and combat lies to ensure that people even in the world’s most oppressed nations have access to the truth.

RFE/RL honors our colleagues who died because of their dedication to living in truth irrespective of the costs, and their belief in the power of a free press.

Abadullah Hananzai

Afghan Service journalist Abadullah Hananzai, 26, was one of three RFE/RL colleagues killed in Kabul, Afghanistan, on April 30, 2018 in a coordinated suicide bomb attack. Hananzai rushed to the site of a blast in the capital city’s Shash Darak region, where a suicide bomber on a motorcycle had blown himself up. He died at the scene when an attacker posing as a cameraman exploded a second bomb targeting respondents to the first blast, Hananzai among them.

Health Ministry officials reported that the dual attacks, in an area that is home to NATO headquarters, the Afghan intelligence service, and several foreign embassies and offices, claimed 25 lives, including nine journalists.

Just five days earlier, Hananzai had vented his anger on Facebook after learning that a colleague had been gunned down at a market in Kandahar. “The murder of my former colleague at Kabul News, a great journalist named Abdul Manan Arghand, has greatly upset me,” he wrote in Pashto. “Arghand is now a martyr for freedom of speech.”

Hananzai was the lead reporter on an extensive anti-narcotics project run by the Service since October 2016. He was a graduate of Kabul University, and had worked for Kabul News, Zhwandoon TV, and the Educational and Cultural Center for Afghan Women.

In one of his last Facebook posts, he posted a photograph of himself at the Afghan Service’s Kabul bureau shortly after a rainstorm, with the comment, in English, “Feeling fantastic. I find Peace in the Rain.”

Sabawoon Kakar

Afghan Service journalist Sabawoon Kakar, 30, was killed in Kabul, Afghanistan, on April 30, 2018 in a coordinated suicide bomb attack. Kakar was one of the first journalists to arrive at the scene of the first explosion in the Shash Darak region, where a suicide bomber on a motorcycle had blown himself up. The second blast, detonated by a bomber posing as a cameraman, targeted respondents to the first blast, Kakar among them. Kakar was rushed to hospital, where he succumbed to his wounds several hours later.

Kakar was a leading and versatile member of the Service’s video team. He reported on counterterrorism operations and security issues, while also covering human interest stories in a changing Afghanistan, for example about women’s cricket.

In one of his latest posts on Facebook, Kakar wrote that he had registered and planned to vote in Afghanistan’s October 20 parliamentary elections, despite bomb attacks targeting voter registration centers in Kabul.

“Kakar often covered the aftermath of suicide attacks and other dangerous news situations,” said Afghan Service Director Qadir Habib. “He was a brave man who was never afraid.”

His last video report, recorded on April 29, was about a battle between Afghan security forces and Taliban militants in northern Afghanistan’s Baghlan province. He died one day before his fifth anniversary with RFE/RL.

Maharram Durrani

Maharram Durrani, 28, was on her way to a training session at the Afghan Service’s Kabul bureau on April 30, 2018 when she was killed in a coordinated suicide bomb attack.

Durrani had only recently decided to accept a position with the Afghan Service and pursue journalism. She was a third-year student of Islamic law at Kabul University, and had previously worked for an Afghan online music channel called Radio Salam Watandar.

She was scheduled to officially begin working with the Service on May 15 on a weekly women’s program.

“She was confident and passionate about reporting on women’s issues in Afghanistan,” said Hashem Mohmand, a former Service director.

“When I began working in media, one of my first bosses asked me why I was studying Islamic law but working in media,” Durrani told RFE/RL during a February phone-in program. “He said that these are not related subjects, but I said, ‘No, that’s not true. It’s very much related because the media can provide information to all people.’”

Dr. Mohammed Bdaiwi Owaid Al-Shammari

Dr. Mohammed Bdaiwi Owaid Al-Shammari, 46, the Baghdad bureau chief of RFE/RL’s Iraq Service, was shot and killed at a checkpoint near his office on March 22, 2014.

On the morning Al-Shammari was killed, he was driving to the bureau in Baghdad’s Jadriyah neighborhood. At the checkpoint at the entry to the compound where the bureau was located, staffed by members of the elite presidential guard, he became engaged in a verbal argument with an off-duty guard in plain clothes who was driving another vehicle and trying to cut in. The off-duty guard shot Al-Shammari and then ran inside the compound, where he apparently sought refuge in the presidential guard offices. A protest broke out at the checkpoint soon after the shooting, prompting then-Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki to go to the site and urge calm. He demanded that the guard be taken into custody; the guard, who managed to flee, was later found in Kurdistan and prosecuted and imprisoned. Students and professors held several days of protests over the killing of their teacher and colleague.

Al-Shammari had worked for the Iraq Service since 2006, becoming its Baghdad bureau chief in 2012. He was a veteran journalist who built his career over the course of two decades. He served on the editorial boards of several Iraqi media institutions, and taught journalism at Baghdad’s Al-Mustansiriya University.

He had a Ph.D. in the philosophy of media and held a Master’s degree in public relations. He had authored several books in Arabic, including Metamorphoses of Political Islam in Iraq (2011) and Iraqi Media: Reality and Challenges (2012).

Nazar Abdulwahid Al-Radhi

Nazar Abdulwahid Al-Radhi, 37, a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Iraq Service, was shot and killed in the southern Iraqi city of Amarah on May 30, 2007.

Al-Radhi was shot as he was exiting a hotel in Amarah’s city center after a journalism workshop that he had just reported on for the Service. The attackers were driving in a pick-up truck, and opened fire on him with machine guns. As he fell down, they paused long enough to identify him, and then continued shooting. The gunmen were never apprehended.

Al-Radhi had been threatened previously by religious extremist groups because of his work for a “foreign agency,” as the Service was commonly referred to, and his uncompromising stance against extremism, as reflected in his reporting.

In addition to working for the Iraq Service, he reported for the independent news agency Aswat al-Iraq, and ran an NGO that trained young journalists.

His brother established an award-winning foundation in his memory to continue his mentoring work.

Khamail Muhsin Khalaf

Khamail Muhsin Khalaf, 50, a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Iraq Service who reported on social issues and cultural life, was found dead on April 5, 2007.

Khalaf was reported missing on the morning of April 3, 2007, after police found the body of her driver on a Baghdad city street. He had earlier driven Khalaf to a reporting assignment. Her family later received a call from her mobile phone by an unidentified person who claimed that Khalaf was with him. After two days of silence, her body was found in Al-Karkh, a residential district on the west bank of the Tigris River near her Baghdad home. She had been tortured and shot in the head.

Khalaf’s killers were never identified, but the high-profile murder has been attributed to supporters of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Khalaf had previously received death threats from pro-regime elements, as a result of which she had relocated two of her children to Syria to ensure their safety.

Khalaf joined RFE/RL shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2004. She was one of a small group of pioneering women who were the first female TV moderators in the conservative country’s media industry. They openly pressed for women’s rights and other reforms, despite social taboos. She had worked for Iraqi national television since the 1970s.

Alisher Saipov

Alisher Saipov, 26, a contributor to the Uzbek Service, was shot and killed in broad daylight on October 24, 2007, while waiting for a taxi with a friend outside his office in his native Osh, Kyrgyzstan, in the multi-ethnic Ferghana Valley.

According to news reports, an unidentified gunman stepped out from the shadows, shot him in the leg, and then fired at his head after he had fallen to the ground.

Saipov, an ethnic Uzbek, had long been the subject of an official smear campaign. A documentary on Uzbek state TV depicted him as an extremist, and accused him of accepting payment from abroad in exchange for slandering the government. In the weeks before he was murdered, he told friends that he believed he was being trailed by Uzbek security services.

In early 2007, Saipov had launched a regional Uzbek-language newspaper, Siyosat, (Politics), which he smuggled across the border into Uzbekistan, and distributed among Uzbek readers in Osh. His reporting focused on high-level corruption in Uzbekistan, and rights violations of Muslims in the Ferghana Valley. He interviewed members of banned religious groups, and tracked the activities of Uzbek intelligence officers whom he claimed operated freely in southern Kyrgyzstan. At the time of his death, Siyosat boasted a print-run of 5,000 copies.

Among Saipov’s many other affiliations, he contributed to the Moscow-based, Voice of America’s Uzbek Service, and the BBC World Service.

Ogulsapar Muradova

Ogulsapar Muradova, 58, a contributor to the Turkmen Service, died in a Turkmen prison in 2006.

Muradova was swept up in a government crackdown on dissidents and arrested on June 18, 2006. A Washington Post report claimed that her three adult children were arrested the day after and held in isolation for two weeks in the interior ministry without being charged. In a closed-door trial on August 25, Muradova was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of illegal possession of ammunition. Amandurdy Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiev, members of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation who were arrested with her, each received seven-year terms. All were held incommunicado at the notorious desert Ovodan Depe prison.

Berdy Muradov, Muradova’s son, learned of his mother’s death when he and his two sisters were taken to the city morgue. They were pressured to sign a document confirming they had taken custody of the body, although they were not allowed to see it, nor was it surrendered to them. The body was eventually released to the family on September 14, 2006 after Western diplomats intervened. Muradova’s children reported at the time that they observed signs of torture and a “large wound” on the journalist’s head.

A government autopsy, whose results were never released to the family or made public, reportedly found that Muradova had died from blows to the back of her head. A report by Reporters without Borders found indications that she died as a result of torture at least four days before her body was released. In April 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee declared the Turkmen government responsible for her death.

In addition to working for RFE/RL, Muradova was a member of the Bulgaria-based Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and worked for the French television production company Galaxie-Presse.

Iskandar Khatloni

Iskandar Khatloni, 45, a Moscow-based contributor to the Tajik Service, was fatally wounded in his apartment by unidentified assailants who attacked him with an ax. He later died from his injuries on September 21, 2000 at Moscow’s Botkin Hospital.

The perpetrators were never identified, despite numerous inquiries at the time by RFE/RL, U.S. government officials, and media advocates.

Khatloni joined the Tajik Service as a news correspondent in 1996. He covered a broad range of politically sensitive issues in the then- Soviet Union, including human rights abuses in the North Caucasus Republic of Chechnya. In the months before his death, he had reported on government corruption and drug trafficking in Tajikistan.

Khatloni was a well-known publicist and poet in his native Tajikistan, with four published volumes of verse and numerous articles to his name. Before turning to radio journalism, he wrote for the Tajik literary weekly, Adabiyot va san'at.

Before joining RFE/RL, he had worked for 10 years for BBC radio. He was a graduate of Moscow’s Gorki Institute of Literature.

Georgi Markov

Georgi Markov, 49, was a contributor to the Bulgarian Service. He died in London on September 11, 1978, after being stabbed in the leg with an umbrella containing a pellet laced with the lethal poison ricin.

Markov was the target of three separate assassination attempts. The first was made in Munich in the spring of 1978, when he was attending a dinner in his honor with colleagues at Radio Free Europe and someone put a toxin in his drink. The second assassination attempt occurred on the Italian island of Sardinia, during a summer holiday with his family. The final attempt, in London, was fatal.

Markov was an acclaimed novelist and playwright, but became best-known to the Bulgarian public after authoring In Absentia Reports About Bulgaria. Written after he fled to the West in 1969, the book opened a window to the truth for people living under the lid of the totalitarian state. The country’s communist authorities and secret services never forgave Markov for writing the book. He frequently read chapters from it on the air.

After defecting, Markov settled in England. In addition to working as a broadcaster for Radio Free Europe, he contributed to the BBC, and the German international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle.

Abdulrachmann (Abo) Fatalibey

Abdulrachmann (Abo) Fatalibey, 46, chief editor of the Azerbaijani Service, was found beaten and strangled to death in a Munich apartment on November 20, 1954. His body was initially misidentified as belonging to another Soviet émigré, Michael Ismailov, and buried in a cemetery in Munich.

Fatalibey’s colleagues had become concerned when he failed to show up for work for several days. After checking his apartment and finding it empty, they reported him missing to police.

The police responded by exhuming the body of the man initially identified as Ismailov, only to confirm that it was actually Fatalibey. An investigation revealed that Ismailov was suspected by police and the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps of espionage, and of having been sent to Munich to kill Fatalibey and obtain information about the new Radio Liberation, as RFE/RL was known at the time. Ismailov, who had in the meantime disappeared and likely returned to the Soviet Union, was named the prime suspect in the murder.

A Radio Liberation program about Fatalibey’s death broadcast on December 7, 1954 ended with this comment: “His murder shows that his recent activities, like the activities of Radio Liberation as a whole, had begun to hurt the dictatorship in a vital spot.”

Fatalibey was a veteran of both the Soviet Army and the German Army’s Azerbaijan Legion in WWII. He had been tried in absentia and sentenced to death by the Soviet government in 1944. In addition to reporting for the Azerbaijani Service, he also wrote for the political magazine Azerbaijan.

Leonid Karas

Leonid Karas wrote for the Belarusian language service of Radio Liberation (later renamed Radio liberty). A USSR emigré living in Germany in September 1954, he was found drowned in Munich’s Isar River under suspicious circumstances.