Afghanistan 5 November 2007

Murder investigation stalls five months ater death of community radio director Zakia Zaki

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the lack of progress in the Afghan official investigation into the murder exactly five months ago of Zakia Zaki, head of the radio station Sada-e-Sulh (Peace Radio).

Police have arrested six suspects but released four. The security forces have not made any serious investigation that could lead to the arrest and conviction of the killers and the family and colleagues of Zakia Zaki fear that the authorities may have abandoned the investigation altogether, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

At least three men broke into her home in Jabalussaraj, Parwan province, north of Kabul, overnight on 5-6 June 2007 and fired seven bullets into her in front of her two-year-old son.

Zaki, who also ran a school, used to say of the radio that it was a “community home for the residents, the only place where they dared express themselves freely”. The journalist and her staff were regularly threatened by local warlords.

“At the time of her death, the interior minister caller her murder an ‘act of terror’ and promised that those responsible would be punished, but today nothing or almost nothing has been done,” said the organisation. “It is the duty of the authorities in Kabul to carry out a real investigation so that the murder of this courageous and excellent woman should not go unpunished.”

French humanitarian Renaud Helfer-Aubrac, a former organiser of the French association Droit de parole, who helped the journalist set up the radio in 2001, has written a tribute to this “resistance figure":

"In Afghanistan, running an independent radio station can be fatal

Zakia Zaki was a mother, school teacher and editor-in-chief of Afghanistan’s first independent radio station in the post-Taliban era, all at the same time. She was also a free speech activist who paid for it with her life.

“Zakia has been gunned down.” It was not immediate. It took me three seconds. Three seconds to finally put a face to the name. I hung up. Tears came to my eyes. I felt dismay, sadness and anger. Then sadness again.

Afghanistan, September 2001 Would the editor-in-chief we were going to see in a few minutes feel humiliated at the sight of the rudimentary studio equipment we had just assembled? What use would she make of this radio station? Where would she find the authority to impose herself in a lasting way, in a social context I could not really grasp?

Every day, we were discovering a bit more of Afghanistan, like film extras hired for a single scene on the set of a big production, enthralled by the ballet of men and women whose roles and functions we did not understand. We were there for a few weeks. To install the radio station’s equipment, ensure the station’s independence, recruit and train a team, and then leave.

An independent radio station, one that was free to say what it wanted. One that took a position. In Afghanistan, as elsewhere, running an independent radio station could be fatal. From the outset, the position of the NGO Droit de Parole (Right to Speak) was to choose a woman as the station’s editor-in-chief. A “radio station by women, for women,” was the motto.

Solving the equation was not so simple. Commander Massoud had just been assassinated and the eyes of the world were turned to this nation with a troubled history. What would be the profile of a woman able to impose herself and guarantee a firm editorial line, and at the same time speak confidently on the air? The answer became clear as we strolled through villages in the Panjshir valley. A school teacher.

There was movement outside the studio. Two blue veils got out of car and walked towards us.

The veils entered the studio. A veil was removed. Zakia Zaki looked at us. She smiled at us. A calm, warm smile of the kind school teachers know how to give. There was benevolence in this look. For a moment I became the schoolboy I once was and perhaps had never ceased to be. It was obvious. The radio station was hers, for her fellow women. This was on the eve of the first US air strikes. From then onwards, Zakia Zaki was the editor-in-chief of Radio Solh (Peace Radio). She gave her life for it.

Zakia Zaki was gunned down, probably at the behest of minor warlords. She was like a resistance fighter, one who fought for her ideas.

I had made her a promise I would no longer be able to keep. I had promised her we would meet again in France or Afghanistan. There was a woman I set on introducing to her. My grandmother, Lucie Aubrac*. My enthusiasm for the idea of this meeting made her laugh."

Renaud Helfer-Aubrac Humanitarian aid worker

* Lucie Aubrac was a member of the French resistance against the German occupation and the Vichy regime during the Second World War.




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