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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Afghanistan: Prominent freelance journalist assassinated

Rahmatullah Nikzad, a reporter, photographer and chief of the Ghazni Journalists’ Union, was assassinated in the first district of Ghazni province by unknown assailants on December 21. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Afghanistan affiliate the Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association (AIJA) condemn the heinous assassination and call for swift action to locate and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Nikzad, a respected Afghan journalist who has worked for Al Jazeera and Associated Press, was shot three times in the chest with a silencer pistol as he left home to visit a local mosque in the evening of December 21. The gunmen are yet to be identified. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Nikzad, who was aged in his mid-40s, was a Ghazni resident and began working as a journalist in 2003. He was associated with several international news outlets and worked on a freelance basis with Al Jazeera Media Network and Associated Press. In a statement on Twitter, Al Jazeera strongly condemned the attack and attempts to silence journalists in the country and stated it was “shocked at the news of the killing of our cameraman Rahmatullah Nikzad, a former colleague who worked with our team in Afghanistan.”

Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Taliban, distanced the insurgent group from the assassination, stating that Nikzad was a committed journalist and had “maintained good relations”. “We consider this killing a loss for the country,” he said.

Nikzad was arrested several times during his career, by both the Afghan and United States governments as well as the Taliban. The journalist had reportedly received threats from various sources, mainly due to his connection with international media outlets and the Ghazni Journalist’s Union.

The Ghazni based journalist is the third media worker to be killed in Afghanistan this month. On December 10, female reporter Malala Maiwand, and her driver Mohammad Tahir, were shot and killed when assailants opened fire on their car as they left to travel to work in Jalalabad, in Nangarhar Province. Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack. On November 12, Radio Free Europe correspondent Elias Daei was killed in a targeted magnetic mine explosion in Lashkar Gah.

The AIJA said: “AIJA strongly condemns the killing and call it a crime against humanity. AIJA shares empathy with his family and urges the Security forces to investigate the killing and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

The IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger, said: “Afghanistan has descended again in terms of journalist safety in 2020 with at least eight media workers killed to date, up from six in 2019. The IFJ again implores that the Afghan government must increase its efforts to ensure the safety of journalists in this volatile space. Too often journalists are the target, often between internal conflicts and the quest for power. Journalists lives must be respected and defended.” 

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