News

June 4, 2020

Afghan journalists fall victim to both bombings and Covid-19

Last week was deadly for media workers in Afghanistan, with two killed by a roadside bomb and two killed by Covid-19, which continues to spread among the country’s journalists. Media workers must be protected from both violence and the pandemic, says a concerned Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

 

Two of privately-owned Khurshid TV’s employees – economy reporter Zamir Amiri and technician Shafiq Zabih – were killed on the spot and four others were injured when a minibus carrying members of the TV channel’s staff was the target of a roadside bomb in Kabul on 30 May.

 

Madineh Morovat, one of the injured journalists, said: “The explosion happened a few minutes after our departure. There was a deafening noise, the minibus was hurled in the air and we were thrown from our seats. I saw colleagues covered in blood and then I lost consciousness, waking up in hospital.”

 

The bombing, which occurred near the TV channel’s headquarters in the city’s 4th district, was claimed later the same day by Islamic State.

 

We call for a thorough investigation so that those responsible for this attack are identified, located and brought to justice,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran-Afghanistan desk. “The government’s disengagement from the fight against violence against journalists and impunity for press freedom’s predators must end at once.”

 

This not the first time that Khurshid TV has been targeted. Five of its employees were injured when an explosive device concealed in a bicycle was set off near their vehicle on 4 August 2019.

 

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for bombings and attacks that have killed a total of 15 journalists and media workers in Afghanistan since 2015, and some branches of the Taliban sometimes carry out attacks against the media in Islamic State’s name.

Speaking on a condition of anonymity, an Afghan security official said: “Several investigations have shown that bombings claimed in Islamic State’s name are in fact the work of Taliban. This ‘label’ is used by both domestic forces and foreign countries for political reasons - the Americans to absolve the Taliban and the Iranians to reinforce their presence and influence in Afghanistan.”

 

One of the consequences of the peace accord that the United States signed with the Taliban on 29 February has been to reduce the number of bombings targeting the media, compared with previous years. But violence against journalists has not declined.  RSF is aware of at least 27 cases of threats, attacks and other forms of aggressive behaviour towards media personnel since 1 January.

 

At least 70 journalists with Covid-19

Afghanistan’s journalists are not falling victim to terrorism and violence alone. According to the information gathered by RSF, at least 70 Afghan journalists have been infected by Covid-19 since the end of March, when the virus was officially declared to have reached the country. This means that Afghanistan’s journalists have been hit harder by the coronavirus pandemic than any other media community in the world.

 

Soliman Yousefi, a driver with privately-owned Ariana News, and Nassir Ahamad Sapi, a reporter for the national RTA TV channel in Nangarhar province, died this week from Covid-19. Meanwhile, nearly 50 journalists in the Kabul region who are infected with the virus say they are not being treated properly, either for lack of money or lack of medical supplies.

 

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Kabul-based journalist with suspected Covid-19 said: “We are getting no help from either the government, the media or the journalists’ unions. Most government aid is useless because of incompetence or corruption. The media have few resources and cannot even pay our salaries. And the unions and associations say they are broke, that their funding comes from membership dues that journalists are no longer paying. I’ve been going to the hospital for five days for a test, but the hospital says it has no tests. I cannot get hospitalized and I cannot afford to buy medicine.”

 

RSF’s Reza Moini added: “Afghanistan’s journalists are exposed to a range of evils, and practicing their profession is becoming more and more dangerous. Such a dramatic increase in the number falling victim to bombings or afflicted by disease is unacceptable. The government, media and union organizations are all partly responsible and must do everything possible to protect journalists.”

 

In a press release on 2 April, RSF published recommendations for protecting journalists against the spread of Covid-19.

 

Afghanistan is ranked 122nd out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.