The Associated Press (AP) photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus has become the latest victim of violence targeted at media in Afghanistan. Niedringhaus was shot dead on April 4 in eastern Afghanistan’s Khost province while covering preparations for the country’s April 5 presidential election. Her AP colleague Kathy Gannon was wounded in the same attack.
Niedringhaus’ killing, the third of a journalist in Afghanistan in the past month, underlines the rising dangers to media workers in the country. On March 11, Nils Horner, a reporter for Sveriges Radio, was killed on a Kabul street by a pair of unidentified gunmen. On March 21, Sardar Ahmad, a senior correspondent for Agence France-Presse, was killed with his wife and two of his three children in a Taliban attack on the Serena Hotel, where they were dining to celebrate the Afghan New Year. Their deaths add to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ tally of more than two dozen journalists killed in Afghanistan since September 11, 2001.
The two journalists were inside a secure compound as part of a convoy of election workers distributing ballot papers when, witnesses said, a police commander walked up to Niedringhaus and Gannon’s car, shouted “God is Great!” and opened fire. He then surrendered and was arrested. President Hamid Karzai has ordered a “full investigation” into the killing. A spokesman for the Taliban has denied any involvement.
The murder of Niedringhaus comes just one day before the April 5 presidential election, which has already been roiled by pre-election insurgency violence. The Taliban vowed in a statement last month to disrupt the presidential elections by “using all force at its disposal,” targeting “all its workers, activists, callers, security apparatus and offices,” in order to “stop the process of elections from taking place in mosques, clinics, schools, madrassas and other public places.”
After the election, Afghanistan’s incoming president should make the safety of journalists a priority so that violence and intimidation doesn’t derail Afghanistan’s fragile press freedom. The killings of Niedringhaus, Horner, and Sardar should become catalysts for the defense of journalistic freedom in Afghanistan, not footnotes for its demise.