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The Recent Attacks in Afghanistan Were a Ruthless Assault on Free Speech

Written by: Simon Doherty 

Last Monday was evidence of just how dangerous it is to be a war correspondent in the Middle East. As a suicide bomber detonated their vest in the centre of Kabul, sparking a blast that would send shockwaves across the street, a huddle of journalists and photographers gathered to report on the scene. They were infiltrated by a second suicide bomber, purporting to be a journalist themselves, who targeted the media professionals with a second bomb. The two attacks cost the lives of 26 civilians, many of whom were just doing their jobs.

Hours later in Kandahar, the second-largest city in Afghanistan, the third attack of the day occurred: A suicide bomber targeted a foreign military convoy. That killed 11 children who were stood outside a nearby primary school. After that, a 29-year-old BBC journalist, Ahmad Shah, was shot dead by masked assailants on a motorbike. As the dust settled in Afghanistan, and the world prepared to celebrate World Press Freedom Day which was three days later, 40 people, including 10 media professionals, were dead.

Shah was an intrepid and much-loved journalist who had worked for BBC Afghan for just over a year. In a statement released yesterday, Jamie Angus, BBC World Service Director, said that he was “respected and popular” within the media industry. “This is a devastating loss and I send my sincere condolences to Ahmad Shah’s friends and family and the whole BBC News Afghan team,” he said. “We are doing all we can to support his family at this very difficult time.”

Abdul Hanan, the Khost police chief, told BBC Afghan that the young reporter was killed by unidentified men. He added that his staff are investigating who is responsible for the attack. Local residents, who were interviewed by the press too, said that Shah was riding his bicycle when the unprovoked barrage of deadly violence suddenly took place. The reporter was immediately rushed to hospital, but he died there while medics attempted to treat his injuries.

Monday’s violence came one week after 60 innocent civilians were killed as they waited outside a polling station to register to vote. Like many that went before, these attacks were seemingly designed to curtail a free press, freedom of speech and democracy. They serve as a fitting example of the common threats that the people of Afghanistan face as they exercise their human rights.

However, far from being silenced by terror and fear these tactics have served to strengthen the resolve of the Afghan people; they are now more determined than ever to speak freely and have a voice. Journalists in the country have remained defiant and unperturbed since Monday; reporting, as usual, the facts and nothing else.

The Afghan government released a statement which said that the bombings constituted both “an attack on Islam” and “an unforgivable crime”. The Afghan embassy in London hosted a reception ‘to honour the role of free press in creating sustainable democracies’. “We pay special tribute to the brave journalists who sacrificed their lives in the pursuit of truth and justice,” they tweeted.

Here at ACAA, we absolutely speak to this sentiment; people have the right to the freedom of speech, regardless of religious or political affiliation. We condemn this violent, ugly and morally reprehensible attack – on freedom of speech, freedom of press and civil liberties – in the strongest possible terms. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who lost loved ones at this incredibly difficult time.

Resilience has become a watchword for the people of Afghanistan. After spending years living their day-to-day lives in a theatre of war and witnessing the death and destruction and carnage that comes with that, they are sure of only one thing: They stand together against anyone who tries to suppress their hard-earned human rights.

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