Afghan President Orders Investigation Into Journalist’s Killing

AFGHANISTAN – (WARSOOR) – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has ordered authorities to investigate the shooting death of a prominent Afghan journalist — the fifth reporter to be killed in less than two months as the government and the Taliban push ahead with peace talks to end the country’s 19 year conflict.

Ghani described the murder as an “attack on freedom of speech and a crime against humanity,” his office said in an emailed statement late Monday. U.S. Charge d’Affaires Ross Wilson tweeted from Kabul that the “targeted killing” of journalists and “attempts to silence Afghanistan’s courageous reporters must end.”

The slain journalist, Rahmatullah Nikzad, worked as a contributor to Associated Press and Al-Jazeera and was shot in Ghazni province by unknown armed men on Dec. 21 in front of his home, according to Ahmad Khan Seerat, a spokesman for the provincial government.

“Rahmatullah Nikzad’s crucial work documenting the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan has been brought to a tragic end by this brutal killing,” said Aliya Iftikhar, a senior Asia researcher for the Committee to Protect Journalists on its website. “The recent spate of killings of journalists in Afghanistan is unacceptable and the Afghan government must redouble efforts to ensure justice and safety for members of the media.”

Nikzad had received threats from the unknown sources over the years, the CPJ noted, citing Abdul Mujeeb Khalvatgar, the director of the Afghan press freedom organization NAI. Khalvatgar added the Taliban were upset with the reporter’s work with international outlets and his role in the local journalists’ union in Ghazni.

The United Nations has noted a dramatic surge in violence by the Taliban since peace talks between the Afghan government and the insurgent group began in Doha on Sept. 12. Other militants have launched assaults on Kabul University and other educational centers, killing dozens of students.

The Taliban denied any link to Nikzad’s death, saying in e-mailed statement he was a “committed journalist” and describing his killing as a “national loss.”

That authorities do not know who is behind the killings is severely impacting journalists — especially those working in remote areas who face serious security issues, said Ahmad Quraishi, the head of Afghanistan Journalists Center. “The journalists carry out their jobs under an environment of fear and desperation now.”

A radio journalist, Elyas Dayee, who was working for the U.S. government-funded RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan, was killed by a bomb attached to his car in the southern Helmand province last month, while two news anchors for local media outlets, Malala Maiwand and Rafi Seddiqi, were also killed in Kabul and Nangarhar province.

Still, 2018 was the deadliest year for Afghanistan since 2001, with 15 journalists killed in that year alone, according to Reporters Without Borders, which ranks the country 122 out of 180 in terms of the most dangerous places for journalists. The organization registered at least 20 threats against Afghan journalists this year.