WASHINGTON -- The deliberate killing of journalists in Afghanistan on April 30, including three reporters with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), “is an unfathomable crime,” RFE/RL President Thomas Kent has said. “The targeting of journalists anywhere must stop.”
The coordinated suicide bomb attacks in Kabul, for which the militant group Islamic State has claimed responsibility, took the lives of three members of RFE/RL’s Afghan Service, known locally as Radio Azadi. “Our colleagues will be mourned and deeply missed,” said Kent. “They had families and dreams, and embodied courage and hope for their country.”
The attacks followed a year of threats, assaults and both legal and extra-judicial actions against RFE/RL reporters in Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine, Iran, and elsewhere.
Sabawoon Kakar was among the first journalists at the scene of Monday’s first attack; he died from his injuries at a hospital in Kabul several hours after the second blast. Just one day before, he had produced a video report about a battle between Afghan security forces and Taliban militants in the country’s northern Baghlan province. Kakar, 30, also reported on social issues, including the changing role of women in the country. A native of Kabul, he died one day before his fifth anniversary with RFE/RL.
Abadullah Hananzai was a video journalist reporting on drug addiction and international narcotics trafficking, and the author since October 2016 of an antinarcotics project called Caravan of Poison. A graduate of Kabul University, Hananzai was 26 years old and was planning to celebrate his first wedding anniversary on May 8.
Maharram Durrani was on her way to a training session at RFE/RL’s Kabul bureau when she was killed. A 28-year old Islamic law student at Kabul University and former online music host at Radio Salam Watandar, she was due to start working on a weekly women’s program for Radio Azadi on May 15.
An Agence France-Press photographer and five reporters with the local 1TV, Mashal TV and Tolo News were also killed by the blasts.
In addition to being targeted by extremist and militant groups, RFE/RL journalists have confronted numerous state-sponsored threats over the past year as, said Kent, “governments across our region have grown more aggressive in their efforts to stifle independent coverage of important issues in their countries, including corruption and domestic politics.”
The Islamabad office of Radio Mashaal, RFE/RL’s Pashto-language Service, was closed by Pakistani authorities on January 19 on orders of the notorious ISI spy agency for allegedly threatening the country’s unity, national security, and reputation. Russia’s Ministry of Justice has designated RFE/RL a “foreign agent,” while in Russia-annexed Crimea, journalist Mykola Semena is serving a sentence on a politically motivated separatism-related conviction. Blogger Stanislav Aseyev is being held incommunicado since being detained by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in June 2017. In Ukraine, authorities have failed to thoroughly investigate physical assaults and online threats against members of RFE/RL’s Schemes team, who investigate corruption and misconduct among government officials. In at least two incidents last month, police officers in Armenia assaulted RFE/RL journalists who were covering national protests. RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani website is under a court-ordered ban for allegedly threatening national security. Correspondents in Turkmenistan are subject to physical assault and threats because of coverage of societal problems that contradicts the state-run press. Members of Radio Farda, RFE/RL’s Iranian service, are subject to efforts to discredit them online because of their reporting, and their family members in Iran suffer harassment and intimidation by authorities.