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Afghanistan: Where violence is threatening the very existence of sports journalism

ASJF member Yaqoub Sharafat, a journalist for Radio Television Afghanistan was killed last year (Photo: ASJF)
by Afghanistan Sport journalists Federation (ASJF)

KABUL, March 14, 2017 - Sport represents a symbol of peace in Afghanistan and insurgents are trying to hurt sports and especially sports journalists who cover sports events in remote areas of the country.

Deadly violence against the media and journalists eased in 2016 from previous record levels, as the number of journalists singled out for murder declined. 2016 was a year in which insurgents killed 418 media representatives in Afghanistan.

Only five days after insurgents associated to the Daesh terrorist group stormed a hospital in Kabul killing at least 50 people and wounding over 70 others, on 13th March 2017 an explosion took place in the main city of Kabul, killing 10 and injuring dozens of innocent people.

The Ministry of Interior confirmed that the blast came from a roadside on Monday, with those killed and murdered feared to be the country’s sports journalists and athletes.

“People in all walks of life cannot leave their homes easily, especially those who want to dedicate themselves to sports. They are not able to go to the parks, stadiums and continue their trainings and sports journalists are not able to cover domestic tournaments. [The current situation in the country] hurts their safety and daily life,” Afghanistan Sport Journalists Federation (ASJF) president Sayer Zaland said.

The war in Afghanistan has long been a dangerous assignment for journalists, but groups say the country's deteriorating security situation is making things even direr, especially in areas held by the Taliban and Islamic State fighters where the government is struggling to regain control. The situation is set to worsen over the summer especially in Kabul where according to reports, the insurgents will turn their focus to.

“As sport journalists in Afghanistan we are working under extremely difficult circumstances and routinely face violence, threats, and intimidation that prevent journalists from carrying out their work,” the ASJF President said.

A vigil was held to honor the 26 journalists killed in the last three months of 2016 (Photo: ASJF)

Open threats

According to Nai, the NGO supporting Afghanistan open media, in the past year 418 journalists had been killed in the country.

Meanwhile an important issue is that sport journalists are suffering more than others, they are no longer able to cover a national match in the provinces, while families no longer trust supporting their loved ones work as sport journalists. While on one hand the Taliban and particularly now ISIS are targeting sports journalists, they released a statement to Afghan media and sports organization which is hurting sports by all means.

The Taliban openly threatened to target the media and TV channels, especially those journalists who are working to support the government and peace processes, and of course sports journalist were among those on the list according to ASJF’s information.

Female colleagues

A female Afghan photographer Mariam Alimi told AIPS Media that such attacks and blasts specially targeting journalists show the degree to which terrorists fear freedom of expression and the press.

“The recent attacks on hospital in Kabul, a roadside bomb blast and targeting sports events, adds a dangerous new complication for local sports journalists working in the country,” she said.

Alimi added that as a female sport journalist it had become very difficult to focus on her work and to assure her family that it was safe for her to go out continue her duties.

A threat to sport

According to information from the International Cricket Council, Afghanistan, a rising cricket power that currently ranks 10th globally in one-day internationals, cannot play at home for security reasons. Instead, Afghanistan has been a nomadic team since the nation’s first official international match, in 2004. Its home matches were normally played in the U.A.E., and last December, the Afghanistan Cricket Board signed an agreement to make a facility in Greater Noida, India, 25 miles from Delhi, which will be the team’s new home ground.

Also displaced is Afghanistan’s national football team who is currently playing home match in Tajikistan and Iran for security reasons, while last month it was announced that due to those same security reasons the election of the president of Afghanistan Football Federation scheduled for 15 April had been postponed.

In a meeting with Deputy Chief Executive of the country Mr. E. Mohammad Khan, Afghanistan Sports Journalists Federation President Sayer Zaland expressed that Afghanistan had become more dangerous than ever for journalists and for sports journalists in particular, who are having to suffer to cover sports events.
Zaland further added that an ASJF member was shot dead in Qalat City in southern Afghanistan on October 16th of last year. Yaqoob Sharafat was working for the state-run broadcaster ‘Radio Television Afghanistan’ (RTA). “His death is yet another blow to Afghan media,” the ASJF President said.

After Sharafat’s death, the Head of Department of International Media Support (IMS) Lars Bestle told media: “Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous countries to work as a journalist.”

Fearing for their lives

According to Zaland, Afghan sports journalists fear for their lives amid terror and militant insurgency.

“The overall situation in the country is dire for everybody, but sports journalists are particularly affected,” Zia Bumia, president of the South Asian Free Media Association for Afghanistan and a leading member of the Afghan Journalists Federation, told AIPS Media.

Afghanistan has only one pride which is sports while the second would be journalism, but right now both are faced with difficulties.

According to the ISJF President, journalists will lose their lives, their families, and Afghanistan will lose its sport if the situation continues like this.

He added further that this was a new problem for sport journalists in the country. “Earlier [journalists] were faced with the lack of information, facilities, training opportunities, but now this has become a huge problem for both sports and journalists, because also sport will be effected by these new tragedies.

“ISIS and Taliban openly addressed media and journalists that they will show no mercy to anyone working in media.” Zaland said.

According to ISJF member Ibrahim Momand, journalists that they are working for to bring hope and smiles to the people, but added that the new tragedies could spread long-lasting fear among families, athletes and journalists. “These kinds of attack can spread fear among the nation,” Momand said

He added that sport is the only hope for Afghans: “We Afghans are facing these kind of attacks and insurgency and there is no hope, no other way out other than sports, this is why insurgents are now targeting journalists and athletes - to kill the hope.”

The Afghan government has said it would take specific measures for the safety and protection of journalists in the country, but there has been no action yet to
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