On a calm Saturday morning in one of Afghanistan’s northern regions, a press award ceremony for war journalists turned into tragedy when an explosion occurred. What was supposed to be a day to celebrate a free press and brave individuals ended with the date for a security guard, leaving several wounded and hurt.
Despite not knowing the perpetrator of this tragedy, the media quickly blamed the Islamic State (I.S.I.S.). It was not until Monday that the organisation admitted to having placed “a parcel bomb that fighters managed to place and detonate.”
Freedom of the press is a sacred pillar of democracy. It enables citizens to be informed about their surroundings and holds the government, corporations, and individuals accountable for their actions. Without it, citizens can’t be actively engaged and aware of their surroundings with an objective mindset. Governments and the international community need to make sure the media and journalists are being protected in their labor of informing the community.
Yet, encouraging the Taliban government to protect free media and their interests would be ignorant. The regime has a strong media apparatus, full of strong anti-Western rhetoric and pro-Muslim ideology that doesn’t permit citizens to objectively grasp issues. In order to ensure that freedom of the press is respected in Afghanistan, the international community needs to hold every actor, either official or non-official, accountable for their attacks toward the press.
With 80% of its population identifying as Sunni Muslim and 19% as Shia Muslim, Afghanistan’s religious demographics pose a problem to I.S.I.S. The Taliban has not shown any opposition toward this diversity, however, the Islamic State, a militant group in support of an international Sunni Islam caliphate, has a strong opposition towards Shia Muslims. This variant of Islam has a strong presence in the northern regions of the country. Consequently, these regions have been in a strong opposition campaign against I.S.I.L. (I.S.I.S.’s regional affiliate) and are just now facing the repercussions. The aforementioned bombing occurred two days after the assassination of Daud Muzmal, the provincial governor.
It is difficult to fathom that in certain countries practicing journalism can be a deadly profession. Speaking truth to power, whether it is about a government, an armed group, or an individual, can result in grave consequences for journalists and their loved ones. It is imperative for governments and the international community to recognize the vital role that journalists play in holding power accountable and ensure that they are admired, not feared.
Despite the violence and oppression faced by journalists worldwide, Afghan journalists remain undeterred in their pursuit of truth and justice, honoring the memory of their fallen colleagues who have sacrificed their lives in the name of accountability in a challenging and complex situation.