Reporters Without Borders today voiced deep shock at the murder overnight of Zakia Zaki, a leading figure among Afghanistan’s independent journalists.
Two armed men broke into the family home of the head of radio Sada-e-Sulh (Peace Radio) in Jabalussaraj, in the northern province of Parwan, and gunned her down in front of her two-year-old son, firing seven bullets before fleeing.
Zakia Zaki, who was 40, had run the radio since it was founded in 2001 and was also head of a local school. She had received several death threats after openly criticising warlords and the Taliban.
"Whether this savage act was linked to her work as a journalist or her civic responsibilities, it is vital that those who responsible for this murder should be quickly identified and punished," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
"We urge President Hamid Karzai to commit all the necessary resources to ensure a successful outcome to the investigation and to leave no stone unturned." An investigation has been opened but no particular lead was being given priority.
"The head of Sada-e-Sulh had received several threats and her struggle for freedom of expression and women’s liberation were exemplary," the organisation said.
Zakia Zaki liked to refer to Sada-e-Sulh as "a community home for the residents, the only place where they dare to express themselves freely". It is the only independent radio in Parwan province and broadcasts mainly on issues such as human rights, education and women’s rights.
The radio’s staff face constant harassment. One of its journalists, Abdul Qudoos, spent a year in prison after his arrest in February 2006 for an alleged murder attempt, on the basis of a false accusation from a woman deputy Samia Sadat. Zaki was Samia Sadat’s main rival at legislative elections and Sadat had tried to get the radio shut down, viewing it as an instrument of propaganda of her political adversaries.
In an interview with a Reporters Without Borders’ delegation which visited Afghanistan in 2002, Zaki said she had received death threats from several Mujahideen chiefs. Local leaders of the Jamiat-e-islami had banned her from interviewing women in the street for her broadcasts.
A portrait of the journalist was included in a documentary called "If I stand up"", co-produced by UNESCO, on International Women’s Day in March 2005 as one of four eminent women journalists in Afghan society. She was a member of the Constituent Assembly in 2003.