Opinion: Afghanistan blasts are an attack on press freedom | Opinion | DW | 30.04.2018
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Opinion: Afghanistan blasts are an attack on press freedom

In a double suicide attack in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, one of the attackers mingled with reporters — and detonated the explosives. It was a calculated attack on press freedom, says DW's Sandra Petersmann.

At least nine reporters are dead, killed on the job. Killing civilians is a war crime, but who cares about such laws in places like Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo? On the Afghan battlefield, too, targeted attacks on civilians have become part of everyday life. 

Civilians are tortured and killed to demoralize the population, to make them docile and to silence them. Journalists are civilians, and when they are silenced, democracy itself is endangered.

Growing media sector seen as threat

According to eyewitness reports, the second attacker in Kabul carried a camera and pretended to be a reporter, mingling with the actual journalists reporting on the first explosion — the same journalists who risk their lives every single day to give the victims of the Afghanistan war a face and a voice.

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DW's Sandra Petersmann

The emergence of a lively media presence is one of the few success stories of the international military intervention that toppled the Taliban regime in the fall of 2001.

Today, Afghanistan has at least 170 radio stations and dozens of newspapers. More than 30 TV programs broadcast from the capital, Kabul, alone. Young media professionals keep alive dwindling hopes for a democratic process.

After a motorcycle rider blew himself up in the middle of early Monday morning rush hour traffic in the vicinity of the Afghan intelligence service's headquarters, many journalists made their way to the scene of the attack. To report. To break the silence after an explosion that turns victims into anonymous numbers. But that did not happen. Instead, the second attacker triggered his device. The Afghan branch of the so-called Islamic State has claimed responsibility. But it could also have been the Taliban. Or any other armed group or warlord militia feeling threatened by a lively public discourse.

Read more: A bloody start to Afghan election process

Hatred never overcome in Afghanistan

AFP chief photographer Shah Marai was one of the nine reporters killed. Marai, who leaves behind a wife and six children, began his career with the French news agency during the era of the Taliban.

"They hated journalists, so I was always very discreet," he wrote on October 14, 2016 in a correspondent blog. That hatred never disappeared over the almost two decades since the radical Islamists were toppled. Weapons don't quash hatred. It would take a credible political vision, one that is open to debate. It would take reporters who ask questions.

AFP-Fotograf Shah Marai (L) gestorben (Getty Images/AFP/J. Eisele)

AFP photographer Shah Marai was killed in the Kabul attack

In his blog, Marais summed up the largely failed Western intervention:

"There is no more hope. Life seems to be even more difficult than under the Taliban because of the insecurity … Every morning as I go to the office and every evening when I return home, all I think of are cars that can be booby-trapped, or of suicide bombers coming out of a crowd. "

Kabul has seen 10 severe attacks in the first four months of this year alone. There is a climate of fear. People stay out of the public eye when they can. But this is no way for a civil society to flourish. Shah Marai ended his 2016 blog entry with the following words:

"I have never felt life to have so little prospects and I don't see a way out. It's a time of anxiety."

Pulling democracy out by the roots 

Monday's blasts were not the first attacks on press freedom in Afghanistan. But this coordinated attack constitutes a massacre of journalists, with the clear aim of pulling the fledgling democratic ideas in the country out by the roots.

Read more: The job hazards of an Afghan district governor

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for October — three years late. Registration centers have become prime targets in recent weeks. How many reporters will rush to the next site of an attack or report about large public election campaign events? The spotlight Afghan reporters have been shining on life in war-torn Afghanistan, always risking their lives, has been dimmed yet again.

And as dusk fell on April 30 in Afghanistan, the BBC announced that in a separate incident, one of their reporters, Ahmad Shah, had been shot in the eastern Afghan province of Khost — the 10th journalist to be killed in a single day. Meanwhile, another attack on a NATO convoy in Kandahar in the south of the country has claimed the lives of 11 children. But they will remain anonymous, disappearing into the country's growing number of casualties.

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