Malala Maiwand, a host with Afghanistan’s Enikass radio and television channel, was shot dead outside her house in December. Earlier this month, three more female employees from the same station were assassinated: Saadia Sadat, 20, Shanaza Raufi, 24, and Mursal Wahedi, 20. The women were part of a team recording voice overs for foreign affairs programs. Press freedom advocates say they were targeted by extremists as part of an ongoing campaign against journalists and activists in the war-ravaged country. As a result, the station has now asked its six remaining female employees to stay home and has temporarily stopped hiring women.
According to the United Nations, 65 journalists and activists have been killed in the country in the last two years. The Afghan Journalists Safety Committee said in a report that 14 female media workers in the country were threatened or violently attacked in 2020 alone.
“A recent surge in targeted killings appears intended to drive women from public life and spread terror among minority communities,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “Unidentified attackers have also gone after journalists, civil society activists, and professionals, killing many, driving some from the country, and leaving the rest to live in fear.”
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for killing media workers at Enikass, but the Afghan government and the U.S. blamed the Taliban for the killing. The Taliban deny the accusations.
VICE World News spoke to Zalmay Latifi, the director of the eight-year-old media outlet, about the perils of hiring female media workers in Afghanistan and how the spate of killings has affected the station. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VICE: Why do you think the four women at your station were killed?
We are in a part of Afghanistan that used to be a stronghold of Daesh [the Islamic state.] Other terrorist groups are also active. The government destroyed Deash’s stronghold, but their fighters are still active. In this area, freedom of speech is under attack. As ours is a prominent media organisation, we are under attack and face such tragic incidents.
Given the atmosphere in Afghanistan, did you see it coming?
We did not receive any warnings or notifications about the attacks. There was a general sense that media outlets were under attack. It was not clear which media or which employee would be targeted.
Was it surprising for you that the victims include Enikass employees who were working off-camera?
One would imagine that those who are on the screen could be in danger. It looks like the terrorists want to show us that everybody at a media outlet is under attack irrespective of their role and contribution.
Was this the first time employees at your station were targeted?
We had faced attacks thrice previously. The first was a rocket attack on our station. The next time, they kidnapped me and my driver was killed. I was in captivity for four months. They have also thrown hand-grenades into the station.
How are other women at your station responding to the killings?
Out of 10 female colleagues, we have lost four. As it is our responsibility to protect our colleagues, we have asked the rest not to come to office even as we continue to give them salaries.
How did you build the team of female media workers?
The cultural atmosphere in eastern Afghanistan is conservative with regards to women joining media organisations. But we invested in them. It was hard to find females who were willing to work. We trained them in anchoring and production. They were our assets. It is extremely difficult to fill the void created by the assassinations.
How has it affected the functioning of the station?
The female section of the media is completely shut down and seriously crippled. We’ve stopped women-centric programs and every operation that required inputs of female employees. For example, we cannot run the dubbing section. We have put many entertainment programming on hold. It is a serious blow to our media.
Will you be hiring more women in the future?
Only if the security situation improves. If we do not have 100 percent security and safety, we cannot hire female employees. Their lives are our number one concern.
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