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Security Brief: Afghanistan’s War on Journalists

Week of January 4, 2021 | Issue 18


Aimee Hanstein

Date: December 21, 2020

Location: Ghazni, Afghanistan

Parties involved: Journalists; Rahmatullah Nekzad; Afghanistan; Militants; Islamic State

The event: On December 21, 2020, Rahmatullah Nekzad, a journalist who was also head of the journalists' union in the province, was killed after leaving his home in Ghazni, Afghanistan while on his way to his mosque. Authorities do not know who shot him, the Taliban denies responsibility and tweeted that the death was a “loss for the country.”[1] The Islamic State has previously claimed responsibility for attacks against journalists and other targeted killings but did not for this attack.

The implications: At the time of December, 21, four journalists had been killed in a period of two months in Afghanistan. Although the Taliban has denied involvement and has even condemned some of the killings; targeted killings of activists, politicians, and journalists have continued to rise despite current peace talks. It is likely that the Taliban is not part of all of these killings and that the Islamic State or smaller militant groups are part of the killings. While the Taliban used to not believe in the press, recently they have turned to journalists and social media to push their agenda and beliefs. If Afghan officials continue to blame the Taliban, it could push the Taliban to actually commit some of the killings or take retaliation in other ways. Some of the previous killings of journalists include bombs and shootings. Many diplomats and global officials have condemned the attacks on journalists stating they are attacks on a free press.[2] Based on the current rate, it is likely that targeted killings on journalists will continue to rise.

Date: January 1, 2021

Location: Pushta Ghazak, Afghanistan.

Parties involved: Journalists; Afghanistan; Taliban; Bismillah Adel Aimaq; Islamic State

The event: On January 1, Bismillah Adel Aimaq, a journalist, managing director of Ghor Ghag Radio, and a civil society activist in his province was killed in his vehicle by gunfire from unknown militants, while he was returning home to Feroz Koh from a nearby village. The Afghan government has blamed the Taliban for similar killings but the Taliban denied involvement in this murder, no one has claimed responsibility for this murder. This murder makes five journalists killed in the last two months.

The implications: While officials may believe that the Taliban is behind the attacks, others believe it could be smaller political factions outside of the Taliban. [3] This is possible as these smaller groups may be using chaos as a cover as the country starts to break down under pressure, this pattern is similar to one during Afghanistan’s Civil War. These targeted killings are worrying as it shows much remains unsettled and in chaos as the US starts to withdraw from the country. US Defense officials have expressed concern that targeted killings as these would happen and that there would be more violence post withdrawal. The international press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called Afghanistan one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists, Pakistan was also included as a top hot spot.[4] The number of journalists killed this year is lower than it was in 2019, but regardless still remains a concern especially as the US pulls out of the region, leaving countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan more vulnerable for journalists and activists. It is likely that the US withdrawing from the region and the ongoing peace talks may increase the amount of attacks on journalists. While 2020 had a lower number of journalists killed, it is unknown whether that pattern will continue decreasing for 2021 or whether it will increase or stay stagnant.


[1] Afghan Journalist Shot Dead Outside His Home In Ghazni Province. Gandhara. December 2020.

[2] RFE/RL Journalist Killed In Southern Afghanistan By 'Enemies of Media Freedom'. Gandhara. November 2020.

[3] Targeted Killings Are Terrorizing Afghans. And No One Is Claiming Them. The New York Times. January 2021.



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