CPJ Journalist Security Blog

Afghanistan


Two murdered journalists for the Africa service of Radio France Internationale, Ghislaine Dupont, 51, and Claude Verlon, 58, might have had a chance. They were abducted on November 2 in Kidal in northern Mali, but the vehicle their captors were driving suddenly broke down, according to news reports.

An Afghan journalist films in Kabul as a military helicopter flies above. (Reuters/Ahmad Masood)

Considering the worst-case scenarios for post-2014 Afghanistan, international news agencies should start planning a range of assistance responses for locally hired journalists and media staff. By the end of 2014, NATO troops will have largely withdrawn and the Karzai government will make way for a new administration. If the situation becomes chaotic, Afghans working for foreign and local media could become targets for retribution for their work as journalists.

An image grab from a YouTube video uploaded on December 18 allegedly shows NBC employees, from left to right, Aziz Akyavas, Richard Engel, and John Kooistra in captivity in Syria. (AFP/YouTube)

At any given time over the past two years, as wars raged in Libya and then Syria, and as other conflicts ground on in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, a number of journalists have been held captive by a diverse array of forces, from militants and rebels to criminals and paramilitaries. And at any given time, a small handful of these cases--sometimes one or two, sometimes more--have been purposely kept out of the news media. That is true today.

A memorial for Afghan journalist Ahmad Omaid Khpalwak in Kabul. (AFP/Shah Marai)

One year ago, on July 28, 2011, Ahmad Omaid Khpalwak, 25, was killed by American troops during a brutal close-quarters battle with a Taliban suicide squad backed by gunmen. Khpalwak was one of 22 people killed in the hours-long siege on government buildings that included the governor's office and police headquarters in Tarin Kot, capital of Uruzgan province. A reporter for the BBC, Pajhwok Afghan News, and several other organizations, Khpalwak died with 11 bullet wounds in his body. He was shot in a government-run newsroom while waving his press card and declaring in English that he was a journalist. It's fair to ask, one year after Khpalwak died, if any lessons have been learned. The odds that a journalist could be killed by U.S. forces' fire seem, unfortunately, to be as high as ever.

Gang members at a prison in Izalco shortly after a government-brokered truce. (Reuters/Ulises Rodriguez)

After the Salvadoran online newsmagazine El Faro exposed a secret government deal with criminal gangs last month, its staff faced repercussions that illustrate the new and complicated risks facing journalists worldwide. El Faro's report, which said the government provided more lenient treatment of imprisoned gangsters in exchange for the groups' agreement to slow down their murderous practices, addressed one of the most sensitive topics facing journalists today--crime and its many interconnections with government.

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