A group of armed men brutally pummeled local freelance reporter Yahya Jawahar Sunday night when they attacked his residence in northern Afghanistan’s Balkh province.
Sunday’s attack in Balkh province came only a couple of days after senior Afghan broadcast journalist Mohammad Zubair Khaksar was fatally shot on Friday night.
“Khaksar who was working for the government-run Nangarhar Radio and Television network came under the attack of armed men while driving in his vehicle in Kharkarano Kala area of Surkh Road District on Friday night,” reports Khaama Press.
Both incidents have further raised concerns for the safety of journalists in Afghanistan, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Monday.
Late last month, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed seven employees of the Kabul station TOLO TV, Afghanistan’s biggest and most-watched television channel. At least 26 people were also wounded in the attack.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks on Jawahar and Khaksar, points out CPJ, noting that the motives remain unclear.
“Afghan journalists have long been under the gun, but the pressure on them is mounting as the security situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The government has made promises to address the situation, but it must join with media owners and Afghan journalists’ organizations to find an effective method of reversing the hostile environment in which journalists and media houses are forced to operate.”
Citing press reports, CPJ describes Khaksar as “a reporter for Afghanistan’s national television and radio broadcaster who also worked as a cultural adviser to the provincial governor in Nangarhar [and was killed] as he returned from a friend’s house on the evening of January 29.”
Voice of the Caliphate, an unregistered radio station linked to the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) branch in Afghanistan known as the Khorasan Province (ISIL-K), had threatened attacks on journalists in and around eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, which lies along the Pakistan border, proclaims CPJ.
ISIL-K has reportedly established a stronghold in Nangarhar, where the pirate radio station, aimed at recruiting militants and airing anti-government Islamic rulings, can be heard.
In Sunday’s attack, unidentified armed men sacked Jawahari’s house in Mazr-i-Sharif, capital of Balkh province, which borders Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Militants from the ethnic Uzbek minority in Afghanistan and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan have pledged allegiance to ISIS. Russia is reportedly contemplating redeploying military troops to Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan in response to the deteriorating security situation afflicting the Afghan people.
ISIL-K and the Taliban are fighting each other in Afghanistan, competing for money and influence.
Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), arrested eight members of the Taliban-linked Haqqani Network who are suspected of having been involved in the attack on the TOLO TV staffers last month.
CPJ notes that “it is rare for those responsible for killing Afghan journalists to be punished.”
In claiming responsibility, the Taliban referred to the TV station as a “spy agency” and noted that “they had made good on earlier threats to attack the station,” reports the Associated Press (AP).
“The victims were part of [TOLO’s] entertainment division, not its news team,” notes CPJ. “The Taliban had openly threatened to target the station after it reported allegations of summary executions, rape, and kidnappings by Taliban fighters during the battle for the northern city of Kunduz in October.”
In a statement, the Taliban claimed they attacked TOLO for “promoting obscenity, irreligiousness, foreign culture and nudity,” adding, “Its workers were anti-jihad and anti-Islam elements trained by foreign intelligence toiling for the Americans.”
Afghan Taliban jihadists have warned media organizations not to promote immorality and foreign cultures.
The terrorist group pointed out that it was not specifically going after the media, but warned organizations not to align themselves with TOLO.
Khaama Press reports that the latest attacks on journalists come as Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani ordered the Afghan security forces “to use every mean in protecting journalists.”
The ruling was issued after the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on TOLO staffers and the fatal shooting of the journalists in Nangarhar on Friday.
Various governments, human rights groups, and rival news outlets condemned the deadly Taliban attack against TOLO staffers as an assault on freedom of the press.
“This cowardly attack was not just on journalists, but on our constitution and exalted values. Freedom of expression is a value enshrined in Afghanistan’s constitution. It is non-negotiable,” said President Ghani, describing those who were killed as “martyrs of freedom.”