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Blog: Remembering Our Afghan Colleagues

Senior Afghan officials, Kabul-based local and international media outlets, embassy representatives, and human rights organizations, and agencies are offering their condolences and solidarity alongside RFE/RL colleagues and the public with Radio Azadi.


CZECH REPUBLIC -- Memorial service held at RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic, in honor of our Kabul bureau colleagues Sabawoon Kakar, Abadullah Hananzai, and trainee Maharram Durrani, who were tragically killed on Monday, April 30, 2018.

Summary

The coordinated suicide bomb attacks in Kabul, Afghanistan on April 30, for which the militant group Islamic State has claimed responsibility, took the lives of Sabawoon Kakar, Abadullah Hananzai, and Maharram Durrani, three members of RFE/RL’s Afghan Service, known locally as Radio Azadi.

The attacks, which targeted journalists, were “an unfathomable crime,” said RFE/RL President Thomas Kent. “Our colleagues will be mourned and deeply missed,” said Kent. “They had families and dreams, and embodied courage and hope for their country.”

The Last Joint Report We Did With Slain Colleague Sabawoon Kakar

AFGHANISTAN -- Sabawoon Kakar, RFE/RL journalist who died after injuries in Kabul attack on April 30, 2018
AFGHANISTAN -- Sabawoon Kakar, RFE/RL journalist who died after injuries in Kabul attack on April 30, 2018

A compelling video about an Afghan’s women’s cricket team was the last story produced by Radio Azadi’s Prague-based Malali Bashir jointly with Sabawoon Kakar, a reporter in Kabul who was killed along with ten other journalists in Afghanistan in separate occasions on April 30. A total of three RFE/RL colleagues -- two reporters and a trainee who was about to start work -- were killed that day. This post by Bashir is a tribute to Sabawoon Kakar and other slain Afghan colleagues, and was initially published on RFE/RL's internal news portal Liberty Net.

I was on my way to the office in Prague on the morning of April 30 when I first read the news of the suicide attacks. I also read that Shah Marai was among the dead. Shah Marai worked as a senior photographer for France Press. I knew Marai for his incredible work and later knew him via Twitter. I called my husband Bashir Ahmad, who is also a journalist, right away and we both shared our grief over the loss of this beautiful person.

When I came to the office, I read another message from Kabul on my phone about Abadullah Hananzai being among the dead and Sabawoon Kakar among the injured. Our colleagues in Kabul and Prague were devastated by this news. In the morning editorial meeting, we were told that Sabawoon Kakar had undergone surgery, that the doctors removed some shrapnel from his body. After the meeting was over I came to my desk.

Shortly afterward, I heard my colleague Norias Nori say that Sabawoon Kakar was no more. I didn’t want to believe my ears and asked in shock: dead? My desk phone rang. It showed the name of Ibrahim Safi, a video journalist in the Kabul office who also worked with me on different reports from there. I was always in contact with Sabawoon Kakar, Ibrahim Safi and Tamim Akhgar for videos and clips that we required for different field reports.

I picked up the phone receiver and heard what I feared. It was Safi’s tearful and shaky voice: Kakar is dead! He died! I could hear men and women crying in the background. Safi was calling from his desk and all our colleagues in Kabul were mourning, in shock and despair. We both cried and I only could say that I would call him back. Everyone was grieving in Prague and Kabul. Ten journalists had died in separate attacks in Afghanistan on that day.

I was scheduled to prepare and present the TV news that day. I read the news of the deaths of my dear colleagues on camera with a heavy heart.

The last story that I worked on jointly with Sabawoon Kakar was on Afghanistan’s women’s cricket team.

Screen grab from Malali Bashir's last joint report with slain colleague Sabawoon Kakar
Screen grab from Malali Bashir's last joint report with slain colleague Sabawoon Kakar

Afghanistan had a women’s cricket team formed in 2010 which played internationally and in 2012 this team went to Tajikistan and won a challenge cup among 6 teams. But soon that team was disbanded and its creator Diana Barakzai fired by the cricket board. We wanted to find out why that team was disbanded and why Afghanistan still does not have a women’s cricket team while there are Afghan women's teams in soccer, track and field, boxing, taekwondo, and other sports.

Sabawoon Kakar interviewed Diana Barakzai, former captain of the women’s cricket team, as a part of this report. She told Radio Azadi that the board uses the issues of "insecurity" and "Afghan culture" as an excuse to mask prejudice against women. Diana Barakzai believes she was fired and her team disbanded because she had complained that conservative board members were obstructing the development of the women's game and misusing U.S. aid. Barakzai says that she has contacts for more than 4,000 girls and women who are begging to play the game. Sabawoon informed me in a voice message that he had transferred the video interview files via FTP.

One of his voice messages to me says: Salam, Malali sister, how are you? I hope you are in good health. I gave the interview to Ibrahim Safi and he transferred it to you in the morning. Today is the international day of reading books and I am on my way to take footage for my report on this topic.

I received Sabawoon’s last written message on my phone on April 26, five days before he died. I had told him that I was sorry I had not seen one of his messages and he wrote back in Pashto: hila kawam, which roughly means, ‘no problem’.

Sabawoon was a very dedicated, career-oriented, thriving and brave journalist. He fearlessly covered the news of explosions and suicide attacks. He was interested in covering issues that other people might fear covering. He reported on issues related to women.

I worked with Sabawoon on another story where a family in Kabul claimed their daughter was murdered by her husband. The husband was in prison. I arranged the interview and sent my questions to Sabawoon so he could talk with the family on camera. We wanted to take both sides of the story and worked on talking to the authorities, to the defense lawyer and anyone else involved. Meanwhile, the police let Sabawoon meet the dead woman’s husband in jail; he threatened to hurt Sabawoon if we issued the story.

We decided not to publish the story because the case was still pre-trial and we did not want our reporting to shape opinions in a murder case. Sabawoon kept hoping we would publish the story but we had to wait for the court hearing. Even though Sabawoon will never see the report published, I want to pursue this story to the end.

Sabawoon died a day before his fifth anniversary at RFE/RL. Sabawoon's pregnant wife gave birth to their second son five days after Kakar was killed. RFE/RL produced a video report about this titled: The Child Who Will Never See His Father​.

I hope we remember him for his work and for the person he was.

Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Martin Stropnický visited the Prague Headquarters of RFE/RL on May 14, where he expressed his condolences for the loss of three of their journalists from the Afghan Service, who were killed in Kabul in a suicide attack on April 30.

Minister Stropnický visited the Prague Headquarters of Radio Free Europe. (Foto: © MFA May 14, 2018)
Minister Stropnický visited the Prague Headquarters of Radio Free Europe. (Foto: © MFA May 14, 2018)

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