Ten journalists were killed Monday, including Agence France-Presse chief photographer Shah Marai, in attacks that sparked outrage around the world and underscored the dangers faced by Afghan media.
The deadly assaults have rocked Afghanistan’s tight-knit journalist community. Many of them are close friends as well as colleagues who look out for one another as they work in an increasingly hostile environment.
Hours after the double suicide blast in Kabul that killed nine journalists and 16 others, dozens of Afghan news editors and executives gathered at the site in a public display of defiance to militants.
The message was “if they destroy a line of journalists, there’s going to be a longer line back at the scene within a few hours,” Tolo News director Lotfullah Najafizada told AFP.
Tolo News cameraman Yar Mohammad Tokhi was among the journalists killed in the explosion that also wounded 49 people and was claimed by the Islamic State group.
Journalists from 1TV, Radio Free Europe and Mashal TV were also among the dead.
Police said a bomber had disguised himself as a journalist and blew himself up among the media covering the first blast near Afghanistan’s intelligence agency.
Media outlets condemned the government’s failure to provide security for journalists, particularly at the scene of attacks where secondary blasts are a constant concern.
“They (security forces) cordon off the area and journalists are left behind the line with the public,” Najafizada said.
– ‘We will not stop’ –
Many journalists expressed determination to continue their work despite the threats.
“Our message is that we are ready, we are not afraid of such attacks and we will stand for freedom of speech and democracy in Afghanistan,” said Hamid Haidari, acting head of the news department at 1TV, which lost a reporter and a cameraman in the assault.
“We know this kind of attack will happen (again) in the future… but we will not stop, we will continue.
“It was a tough time (yesterday). But we stand against such barbaric acts.”
The 10th journalist killed Monday was BBC reporter Ahmad Shah, who died in a separate attack in the eastern province of Khost.
The attacks came days after gunmen shot dead an Afghan journalist in the southern city of Kandahar.
Afghanistan was last year ranked the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The media watchdog said since 2016, it has recorded the killings of 34 journalists in Afghanistan.
“We are determined to work for press freedom and keep informing people,” Parwiz Kawa, editor-in-chief of the Hasht-e-Subh Daily newspaper, told AFP.
The newspaper published a black front page with photos of the nine journalists killed in Kabul. The last time it did so was in 2016 when seven Tolo News employees were killed in a Taliban suicide bombing.
“There’s a level of commitment inside (Afghan) media outlets… who are mainly composed of young and educated people and they think they have a social responsibility to work and keep going,” Kawa added.
But there are fears the repeated attacks on the media and the perception that militants are deliberately targeting them, will frighten some journalists into quitting.
“Some of our journalists have already left work and changed jobs because of increasing security threats,” Waliullah Rahmani, director of Khabarnama Media, told AFP.
Freelance journalist Zakarya Hassani said he was under pressure from his family to stop working in the media.
“Since yesterday evening I have received a lot of phone calls asking me to quit, ‘please leave your job or it will take you from us’,” Hassani told AFP.
“But this is not the solution and so far the answer is no.”
But Ahmad Farid Halimi told AFP he had resigned from his job at TV channel Kabul News after the attack.
“Last night my wife was crying when I came home, she was telling me ‘you are not safe with this job’,” he told AFP.
“I don’t know what I will do in the future but I don’t want to be killed for my work.”