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2016 was the Deadliest Year for Journalists in Afghanistan, says Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee (AJSC)

016 has been the deadliest year for journalists in Afghanistan, now the second most unsafe country for journalists with a nearly 13 reporters brutally assassinated

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Afghan Journalist, Pixabay
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Kabul, Jan 19, 2017: According to a report released Thursday, Afghanistan suffered its deadliest year on record for journalists in 2016. The report stated that the country has grabbed the spot of the second most dangerous nation for reporters in the world after Syria.

Not less than 13 journalists were killed last year, the Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee (AJSC) said, adding that the Taliban was responsible for at least ten of the deaths.

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101 cases of violence against the media in 2016, a 38 percent increase on 2015, had been found by the committee; underscoring the threat against a small band of media workers who put their lives on the line to report events in their war-torn country and help the events reach the masses.

“This increase in violence against journalists has turned Afghanistan into the second most dangerous country for journalists in the world, after Syria,” chairman of the committee, Najib Sharifi,  told reporters on Thursday.

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The report marked that a shift in the Taliban’s policy and actions towards the media was the “main driver of the increase in the level of threats and deadly violence against journalists”.

Seven employees of popular TV channel Tolo, often critical of the militants, were slaughtered in a Taliban suicide bombing episode in Kabul in what the insurgent group said was a revenge for “spreading propaganda” against them in January last year.

Since the Taliban were dethroned from power in 2001, it was the first major attack on an Afghan media organisation and spotlighted the dangers media workers face in Afghanistan as the safety issue worsens amid a growing tide of militant attacks and increasing violence.

In June, the Taliban murdered American journalist David Gilkey and his Afghan translator in a rocket attack in southern Helmand province.

But the report also pointed out the fact that the majority of violent incidents against journalists were executed by government forces, with the European Union’s raging criticism regarding the “alarming” trend.

“The government should take utmost measures to bring perpetrators of threats, attacks and killing of journalists to justice,” the EU delegation to Afghanistan said in a statement.

According to the figures presented by AJSC, 28 journalists and media workers have been killed in the past five years in Afghanistan.

The raising atrocities against media must be handled carefully and the Government must come up with steps to prevent more such incidents from happening.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang

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Copyright 2017 NewsGram

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Grass-Roots Peace Movement Spreads Across Afghanistan

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Afghan protesters for peace hold banners during a protest in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, March 31, 2018. Several hunger strikers taking part in a rare sit-in peace protest in Afghanistan's restive south have been taken to a hospital for treatment, officials and protesters said. VOA

The grass-roots call for peace by some residents that began as a sit-in in Afghanistan’s restive Helmand province is gathering momentum and spreading to other provinces of the country.

A car bomb explosion March 23 in the nation’s southern region, near a packed sports stadium in the provincial capital of Lashkargah, killed at least 14 people and wounded dozens more.

The attack occurred while a wrestling match was underway. The Taliban did not officially claim responsibility, but Afghan officials assigned blame to the insurgent group, saying it typically denies responsibility for attacks that kill large number of civilians.

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Initially, it was viewed as just another routine terror assault that killed civilians, and it would have remained so had it not been for the residents of Helmand province, who decided they had to act.

A man carries a wounded boy to a hospital after a car bombing outside a sports stadium in Lashkargah, capital city of southern Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 23, 2018. Provincial chief of police Abdul Ghafar Safi said the blast was carried out by a suicide bomber and that the target was civilians. VOA

A group of young local men began a sit-in at the capital of the province and demanded an end to violence. Later, women joined the sit-in and urged the warring sides to end the vicious cycle of violence that has been tearing through the nation.

“Stop making us widows and making us cry over the death of our children,” a woman said at the rally in Helmand last month.

Hunger strike

The initial anti-war sit-in turned into a hunger strike after the Taliban rejected the protesters’ pleas for peace and instead warned them not to go near Taliban territory. The insurgent group instead instructed locals to conduct their protest at a nearby Afghan and NATO military base.

The strike continued for three days before religious clerics intervened and encouraged protesters to eat.

“Religious clerics considered the hunger strike to be against Islam, and they asked us to end it, promising they would go to the Taliban and discuss our demands with them,” Bacha Khan, a protester in Helmand, told VOA.

The hunger strike did end. The sit-in, however, continues, gaining momentum and rapidly expanding to other provinces.

Iqbal Khyber, an activist from Helmand and a key member of the sit-in, told VOA demands for peace would not end.

“Our sit-in will continue until we see at least two days of cease-fire between warring sides. Our long march began in Kandahar province [in southern Afghanistan] today [April 5]. We will put up the peace sit-in tents in every corner of the country,” Khyber told VOA.

“Preparations for putting peace sit-in tents in Kabul, Zabul, Paktia, Khost, Bamyan, Balkh, Kunduz, Badakhshan and Farah are already underway. We will not stop until our demand for peace is met,” he added.

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Growing demonstrations

Demonstrations have begun in western Herat and central Bamyan provinces, where dozens of protesters got together and expressed their solidarity with the Helmand peace sit-in.

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“The call for peace is the voice of all Afghans and it cannot be attributed to a specific tribe, group or party,” Faqir Ahmad, a protester at a Herat peace sit-in tent, told VOA.

At a gathering in central Bamyan province, activists announced their backing of the Helmand sit-in.

“Today we pronounce our support for the peace and advocacy movement of our brothers in Helmand,” Ismail Zaki, a civil society activist in Bamyan, told VOA.

Government reaction

While at an international conference in Kabul in late February, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered unconditional peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. He advocated for the peace movement across the country.

“I welcome the campaign in Helmand and other provinces where women, elders and youth have gathered to seek peace and raise their voices against war and violence. And I hope this peaceful national movement will be strengthened and supported by the people in large numbers,” Ghani said in a Dari tweet on Wednesday.

The Taliban have yet to officially respond to the Afghan government’s offer of unconditional peace talks.

The Afghan High Peace Council (HPC), a government body tasked with talking to the insurgents, also praised the initiative of Helmand residents.

“I call on Tahrek-e-Taliban, the commanders of the Taliban, the people who are living in Taliban-controlled areas, let’s end the war and embrace peace,” Karim Khalili, chairman of the HPC, told a gathering on Wednesday in southern Kandahar province.

Taliban’s stance

While the Taliban initially rejected the local plea for peace, the insurgent group has since softened its stance.

A Taliban official requesting anonymity told VOA that his group is looking forward to meeting and talking with the protesters.

“It is a totally new subject for us. We are studying it and we will meet with these people and listen to their demands and will try to find out why they are making such demands from the Taliban alone,” the insurgent official told VOA.

That meeting apparently happened. According to the organizers of the sit-in, local Taliban groups in Helmand have supported their call for peace.

“Local Taliban delegations visited us, extended their support and expressed their frustration of war,” Khyber, a sit-in organizer, told VOA. VOA