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Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Naimatullah Zaheer

On 4 November 2016 three Afghan journalists were travelling by car in the southern province of Helmand as they researched the newly ignited battles with the Taliban. They never reached their destination. Close to the city of Lashkargah, a bomb that had been deposited by the side of the road exploded, destroying the car. The driver and two colleagues survived the attack, but Nematullah Zahir, a reporter at the Kabul-based station Ariana TV, was killed. It has not yet been explained whether the bomb was detonated as a targeted attack on the journalists, or whether it was intended as an ambush on the military.

For Nematullah Zahir and those with him, it made no difference. Nor does it alter the situation for journalists in Afghanistan. Zahir was the twelfth journalist to die in the conflict-ridden country in 2016. Anyone who takes the profession of reporter seriously cannot help but put their life in danger here, since military conflicts and terror attacks determine everyday life in many parts of Afghanistan. On top of this, there are politically and religiously motivated threats. Since the fall of the Taliban, a surprisingly diverse media landscape has developed in Afghanistan, as established by Reporters Without Borders. Nevertheless, any reporting that might be deemed to be violating the doctrines of Islam is forbidden.

Reporters wanting to discuss religious laws or corruption are exposed to the violence of the Taliban and the warlords.

Female journalists in particular are intimidated and attacked, but the attacks are rarely investigated and generally go unpunished.

Nematullah Zahir was most certainly aware of the risks of his profession under these circumstances, but even so, he worked for the biggest private television broadcaster in Afghanistan with a reach of 20 million viewers. By its own account, Ariana concentrates on broadcasting news, content and entertainment with a particular focus on education and health and with special programmes for women and children. With its efforts towards inclusion and education, Ariana wants to open up a window on a better tomorrow, as stated on the broadcaster’s website. And: “We are proud to be able to supply our viewers with accurate news without prejudice.” It all sounds rather like a kind of counter-project to the objectives of the Taliban. It goes without saying that journalists like Zahir, who were committed to such objectives, end up in the line of fire.

Last year was one of the most bloody for journalists, said Abdul Mujeeb Khalvatgar, Director of the Nai Media Institute which works towards a free press in Afghanistan, in an interview with broadcaster ARD: “In 2016 we lost fourteen journalists and other colleagues. They were either murdered by the Taliban or by people who were described by the government as unknown armed groups.” More than 420 attacks on journalists have been recorded in the past year in Afghanistan, of which 320 were carried out by the Taliban. “The Taliban attacks journalists because they uncover what the Taliban is doing in the country: they rape, kill, burn down schools and destroy roads”, reports Mujeeb.

Journalists like Nematullah Zahir risk everything to report on the true state of the country.

He paid for his commitment to building a civilised, well-informed Afghanistan with his life.

That won’t be forgotten. And the Afghan government, which enjoys such solid support from the West, has a duty to do more to protect these brave journalists.


written by Holger Schmale; writer, DuMont-Hauptstadtredaktion

  • Naimatullah Zaheer

    The Afghan Naimatullah Zaheer worked for the private TV station Ariana TV, which is based in Kabul. He reported about the heavy conflicts between the government and the Taliban. For that he travelled to the Helmand province in the South of Afghanistan in November 2016 – with fatal ending. It is the same region, in which David Gilkey and Zabihullah Tamanna were killed in June.

    Find out more about the stories of David Gilkey and Zabihullah Tamanna.