Journalist Malalai Maiwand Shot Dead In Afghanistan

On Thursday 10th December, Afghan journalist and women’s rights campaigner, Malalai Maiwand, was killed by gunmen on her way to work in Jalalabad, a city in the eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. According to Reuters, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, through its telegram communications channel, calling Maiwand a “pro-regime” journalist. The shooting, which also killed Maiwand’s driver, comes just weeks after the journalist, Elyas Dayee, and the television presenter, Yama Siawash were killed in separate bombing incidents in November. This latest attack is endemic of growing insecurity in Afghanistan, especially for journalists, despite ongoing peace negotiations between the Afghan Government and the Taliban.

Maiwand, who was only 25, worked as a presenter for the Enikas Radio and TV station in Nangarhar. She was also a prominent civil society activist, having regularly spoken out about the challenges of working as a female journalist in Afghanistan. Her killing, carried out on International Human Rights Day, has been met with universal dismay, with the Afghan government, the German Embassy and the European Union delegation amongst those who condemned the killing. The British ambassador to Afghanistan, Alison Blake, also used Twitter to call for an investigation into the attack and highlighted a greater need to uphold press freedom in the country.

There is little doubt that the Afghan media, which The Guardian called ‘one of the unqualified successes of the post-Taliban era,’ is under serious threat. According to Reuters, Maiwand is the tenth journalist or media worker to be killed in Afghanistan this year. Nai, an Afghan non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides advocacy and support for the Afghan media, has also stated that the killing puts further pressure on journalists who ‘may not dare to continue their jobs.’ A climate of fear for journalists has emerged in Afghanistan, which threatens the existence of the media as a space for free and unfettered expression, creating growing risks for the future of the country and its 40 million residents.

Maiwand’s position as a female journalist in Afghanistan, adds another dimension to the tragedy of her death. Although advances have been made since the removal of the Taliban regime in 2001, women still face widespread discrimination and violence throughout Afghanistan. Maiwand’s role as a prominent female media personality served as a symbol of growing opportunities for women in the country and the possibility for a more balanced media landscape. However, Nai highlighted that in her death, the already small ‘working field for female journalists’ has shrunk.

Maiwand knew only too well the risks she faced by continuing to work in a region where Islamist militancy has been a present and growing menace. Her mother, a women’s education activist, was killed by unknown gunmen five years ago. Thus, her bravery in continuing to work despite personal tragedy, and an atmosphere of insecurity for journalists, must be commended. However, it should not be the role of journalists in Afghanistan to risk their own lives in defence of a free press. The Afghan authorities, with help from the international community, must look to protect journalists and uphold press values by not bowing to violent acts that look to inhibit personal and social freedoms. This will not be easy. Violence in Afghanistan has been on the rise since peace talks between the government and Taliban began in September. With few breakthroughs brought about at the negotiating table, there is a growing fear that the future of Afghanistan will, once again, be decided by violence.

Jake Tacchi