Three female media workers have been shot dead in the Afghan city of Jalalabad, in what appears to be the latest in a wave of unprecedented attacks on journalists and civil society activists.
The women, aged between 18-20, were killed as they walked home in two separate but coordinated incidents. The women, who were still high school students, had been working part-time at local broadcaster Enikass TV and were killed in what has been called a “shameful and deliberate act of terror.”
The attacks come just months after Malala Maiwand, a women’s rights activist and journalist for the same media outlet, was shot dead in similar circumstances by unidentified gunmen.
Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, condemned the killings, stating:
“Such attacks on our innocent compatriots, especially women, contradict the teachings of Islam, Afghan culture and the spirit of peace, and make the current crisis and war difficult and long,”
Islamic State (IS) has since taken responsibility for the attack, and this is the most recent illustration of militant groups’ incursions on civil society, that has seen judges, journalists, and intellectuals targeted. The Taliban are also known to frequently conduct targeted attacks on civilians using IEDs and many Afghan officials have suggested that they are responsible for a considerable proportion of unclaimed deaths.
Though the Afghan Interior Ministry has failed to provide exact determinations of the number of people assassinated in similar incidents, recent estimates place the number of civilians killed at close to 150. Since 2018, at least 28 of these deaths are presumed to have been media workers, according to the UNESCO observatory of killed journalists. Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s Director-General called for:
“the perpetrators of these attacks to be held to account to enable journalists to carry out their work without having to fear for their lives.”
The recent publication of a report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, detailing the surge in killings of human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers, found that targeted attacks have:
“decreased the numbers of human rights defenders and journalists, and the threat of violence and insecurity has led some to self-censor, and others to depart the country”
As peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government continue in Qatar, the voice of journalists and rights advocates must not be impeded. Militant groups’ suppression of civic space in this manner is detrimental to the protection and advancement of human rights and cannot continue if a peaceful and democratic Afghanistan is to be attained.