Mohammad Ilyas Dayee, an Afghan journalist working for RFE/RL, was killed in a targeted bomb attack in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province, on November 12. His younger brother, a former reporter for Deutsche Welle, was also injured in the attack.
Dayee, 33, is the latest victim of mounting violence in Afghanistan, where former and current journalists are now being targeted with magnetic bombs. He will be remembered for his lifelong service to Afghanistan, particularly its largest province, Helmand, where he was born and spent nearly all of his life.
"We are shocked and saddened by the loss of Mohammad Ilyas Dayee, a brave and dedicated colleague who never wavered in his determination to report the news from his native Helmand Province," said Daisy Sindelar, RFE/RL’s acting president.
She termed Dayee’s killing “a cowardly, despicable act that devastates a young family and leaves Afghanistan deprived of a talented reporter who bore witness to the changes under way in his country,” adding that “the rising threat of violence against journalists should deeply concern everyone invested in a secure and peaceful future for Afghanistan."
Qadir Habib, the head of Radio Free Afghanistan, said Dayee’s killing is devastating news. “He was a talented, committed, unbiased, and bold journalist,” he said. “He wanted to be the voice of his people and was tireless in letting the world know about their pain and suffering.”
Habib said that after joining Radio Free Afghanistan in 2008, Dayee showed great dedication to his work. His reporting not only covered the dangerous security situation in Helmand, where the Taliban and government forces are in near-constant battle; it focused on how that impacted the lives of civilians in the province, which borders Pakistan and is close to Iran.
He was also keen to cover social and cultural issues and gave Radio Free Afghanistan some of its most incisive reports on the drug trade. Most of the world’s illicit opium is grown in Helmand before being processed into heroin.
“Dayee brought our audiences a lot of color from Helmand,” said Asmatullah Sarwan, a Radio Free Afghanistan colleague. “His radio dispatches and text stories took our listeners and readers to Helmand, where they felt the heat of the battle, the pain of displacement, and the struggles and simple pleasures of the lives of its hardworking farmers.”
Salih Mohammad Salih, another Radio Free Afghanistan journalist and a close personal friend, remembers encouraging Dayee to join his organization in 2008. He says that in addition to being a resourceful journalist Dayee was always eager to help others.
“He had a big and generous heart,” Salih said. “Just last month, Dayee sheltered many relatives and acquaintances in his house when fighting forced them to flee their homes.”
Last month, Dayee posted a photo of the tent he put up in his yard in Helmand’s provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. “Today we erected another tent for a displaced family and there was no space inside the rooms in our house,” he wrote on October 14. A failed Taliban offensive aimed at overrunning the city last month forced thousands of families to flee Helmand or seek shelter in the safer neighborhoods of Lashkar Gah.
Dayee spent his childhood in a Helmand controlled by the Taliban. During his studies at university, he became a journalist in 2006 and reported for Afghan state TV, the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, and Salam Watandar, a journalist-training nonprofit and U.S.-funded radio station in Afghanistan.
“As the eldest among eight brothers, he looked after his extended family,” Salih said, adding that Dayee had 13 siblings and half-siblings from his father’s two marriages. “He was a role model to them all, as well as to many young journalists in southern Afghanistan, where his reporting was revered.” Mujtaba Mohammadi, one of his younger brothers and a former correspondent for Deutsche Welle, is currently being treated for his injuries incurred in the November 12 attack.
Dayee’s killing has been widely condemned in Afghanistan, where no one has yet claimed credit for the attack. Zabiullah Mujahid, a purported Taliban spokesman, told Radio Free Afghanistan that the group will investigate the killing.
Journalist organizations in the capital, Kabul, and across Afghanistan have called on the government to investigate his death and punish the perpetrators.
Diplomats in Kabul have also expressed their condemnation. “This is another attack on the freedom of the press,” Ross Wilson, the acting U.S. ambassador in Kabul, tweeted. “These attacks on journalists must stop immediately.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also denounced the attack. “Terrorists groups cannot curtail the freedom of expression and the voice of the press through such criminal attacks,” he said in a statement. “The government is committed to protect and enhance this right, which our people, press, and journalists achieved through relentless efforts and sacrifices.”
Kabul, however, has hardly punished any of those responsible for the more than 50 journalists killed in Afghanistan since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a global media watchdog.
Dayee is survived by his wife and 1.5-year-old daughter, whom they named Mehrabani, which is Pashto for kindness.