Female television presenter murdered, colleague under threat

New York, May 23, 2005—The former presenter for a popular MTV-style music video program was shot and killed in her home in Kabul last week. Shaima Rezayee, 24, hosted the daily music program “Hop” on the private television channel Tolo TV until March.

Police told The Associated Press that Rezayee was killed May 18 by a single bullet wound to the head and that members of her family may have been responsible for the murder.

Rezayee and the show “Hop” were both groundbreaking and controversial in a country where only four years ago women were not allowed to work, and watching television and listening to music were banned under Taliban rule. The hour-long nightly show aired after the evening news, and featured music videos by Western performers and singers from Turkey, India, and Iran. On the air, Rezayee spoke informally and joked with her male co-presenters, which made her popular with young people but drew the ire of conservative religious leaders.

Tolo TV came under pressure March 13, after a government panel of religious scholars known as the Ulema Council condemned the channel for broadcasting programs “against Islam and other national values of Afghanistan.” Rezayee lost her job soon after.

In a recent radio interview, Rezayee said that she thought her life was in danger. The BBC reported that police suspect a connection between her work at Tolo TV and her murder. But in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Saad Mohseni, director of Tolo TV, denied any direct link since she was not working at the channel at the time of her death.

The head of Afghanistan’s Supreme Court, Fazl Hadi Shinwari, has been very critical of the program, and said that it would “corrupt our society … and destroy our country,” according to a report on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Shinwari tried unsuccessfully to ban female singers from appearing on television last year.

Shakeb Isaar, another popular “Hop” presenter, said that he is under threat from conservative forces and fears for his life. Since the show started airing last October, Isaar said, he has received death threats on the phone, in the mail, and on the Internet. He said he has been attacked by knife-wielding assailants and dragged from his car and beaten; Isaar said he has had to stop going to journalism classes at the University of Kabul because of the harassment.