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Afghanistan 20 May 2008

Authorities urged to protect women working in news media

Reporters Without Borders calls on the authorities to do everything possible to protect women journalists, several of whom have been attacked or threatened since the start of the year. One, Niloufar Habibi, has continued to receive death threats since leaving hospital after being stabbed on 15 May in the northwestern city of Herat and has to change residence every day.

“We are very worried about the growing number of attacks and threats against women journalists,” the press freedom organisation said. “Action must be urgently taken to put a stop to this violence. The government has a duty to investigate these incidents thoroughly and ensure that they do not go unpunished, especially as some of the victims have been forced to stop working in order to avoid further threats.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “Unfortunately, the Taliban are not the only ones to target women working in the media. Religious fundamentalists, warlords and local politicians help to create a climate of fear designed to marginalise women in Afghan society.”

A 20-year-old presenter on the local public television station, Herat TV, Habibi was stabbed in her home in Herat on 15 May, two weeks after unidentified individuals threatened all public radio and TV employees. Fearing for their safety, three women resigned just a few days after the threats were made. Around 10 other men and women quickly followed suit. But Habibi had decided to keep working, despite many warnings.

Habibi told Reporters Without Borders she is very worried: “I was attacked twice in less than a week. The first time [on 14 May] was after several phone calls. Two men and a woman stopped me on the way to the office and injured me with a knife. With a taxi driver acting as their accomplice, they drove me to the TV station and told me, ‘If you do not resign, the next time will be the end’.”

Habibi continued: “The next day, a woman knocked on my door and stabbed me when I opened. After I was released from hospital [on 18 May], I was constantly followed by strangers. I have repeatedly changed my residence. I refuse to bow to the threats and I fear for my life.” Despite her appeals for help, she has still not received any police protection..

Several other journalists have been forced to leave the city. They include Khadijeh Ahadi, the deputy editor of Radio Faryad and host of a very popular programme in which people can question politicians about every day problems. After she received many threatening phone calls, grenades were thrown at her home on 6 and 11 April. She was not injured but her house was badly damaged.

“We have been seeing attacks on news media and journalists for months, especially in Herat province,” Rahimullah Samandar, the head of the Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA), told Reporters Without Borders. “There have been eight to ten attacks on women journalists or young journalists this month. They want to stop TV programmes being broadcast and ban women from working on them. The inactivity of the authorities is unfortunately an important factor in the increase in these attacks.”

Another AIJA representative, Nighibolah Taieb, told Reporters Without Borders: “This situation is dangerous for our country. Those responsible for these attacks are the enemies of free expression. You should not forget that Herat province’s neighbours [in Iran] are worried about freedom of expression in our country and fear that the broadcasting of programmes will influence viewers on the other side of the border.”

Individuals claiming to represent the Taliban threatened women journalists in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in February. They told one of the women: “Take care. If you continue to show yourself on television, your sister, your mother or other members of your family could be kidnapped.” The journalists requested police protection but did not get it.

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