Afghanistan: Two female journalists murdered by extremists this week in Afghanistan

Globe and Mail
The murder of two female journalists in Afghanistan in the space of a week has brought home the risks that newswomen face in a country where women are not expected to ask questions.
Zakia Zaki, 35, was shot seven times as she slept in her bed with her young son late Tuesday. A respected journalist and human-rights activist in the province of Parwan just north of the capital, she headed the U.S.-funded Peace Radio. She was also the principal of a local school and ran for parliament in 2005.
Her killing came just days after the slaying in Kabul of Sanga Amach, a news presenter for a private television station. Both women reportedly received threats, warning them to stop reporting.

"This is a shocking thing to see," said Abdul Hai Warshan, a long-time reporter for Voice of America, who visited Ms. Zaki's house yesterday to report on the crime. "Journalism is always dangerous in this country, especially if you are a woman. The extremists do not like women who work."

He saw Ms. Zaki's body, cleaned and dressed in fresh clothes for burial, laid out in the family bedroom as her husband and family grieved. She had six children, aged one to 15, said other journalists who knew her. Mr. Warshan said it appears that two men came though the bedroom window, one armed with an automatic rifle and one with a pistol, and opened fire. Abdul Hamid Mobarez, a freelance journalist who knew Ms. Zaki, said she was "very, very active" in her community.

She ran the radio station and the school and took on a variety of projects, such as raising money to get textbooks for local schoolchildren. "It is a very great loss for us, but we are carrying on with our struggle for freedom of the press in Afghanistan," said Mr. Mobarez, president of the Press Commission of South Asia. Ms. Zaki was "a great supporter of women's rights in Afghanistan," he said.

Female journalists, still a small minority in their craft, are particularly vulnerable because conservative forces see them as a visible symbol of women's emancipation. One local journalist who came to cover a development conference in Kabul this week told foreign journalists that she had been threatened by her cab driver on the way to the hotel.

"Women should not be journalists," he told her. "Watch out or you might get shot."

Some female journalists are victimized by their own families. When a well-known female presenter was murdered in her home two years ago, male relatives became suspects. Reports said they had killed her for besmirching the family name by brazenly appearing on television in a country where many still believe a woman should not show her face in public. [...]

The Afghan media flourished after the fall of the Taliban, which had allowed only one state-run propaganda broadcaster and several newspapers with religion as their main theme. Today, there are eight television stations, 40 private radio stations and 300 newspapers and magazines. Feisty editorials and columns question the government's decisions and female presenters appear on TV.

That may have angered both Muslim extremists and government authorities, who find themselves being challenged by a freer press. Tolo TV, a well-produced, Western-style news and entertainment channel, has proved particularly irksome to authorities. Afghanistan's Attorney-General sent police officers to the station and detained some staffers last month after it broadcast a report that displeased him.

The Taliban is another threat to Afghan journalists. Taliban insurgents executed the media interpreter Ajmal Nakshbandi last month after the government struck a deal for the release of the Italian journalist who had employed him.

07 June 2007