Afghan freelance journalist Rahmatullah Nikzad, 50, who contributed photos to The Associated Press and photos and reporting to Al-Jazeera, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on December 21, 2020, according to the AP, Al-Jazeera, and other news reports.
He was shot three times in the chest while leaving his home to go to a local mosque, and was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead, according to those reports.
Nikzad had received threats from different sources over the years, and had notified local and national officials about them, Abdul Mujeeb Khalvatgar, director of the Afghan press freedom organization NAI, told CPJ in a phone interview.
Nikzad had reported for several different local and international media organizations, and began his journalism career at Radio Ghaznawiyan in Ghazni, where he was one of the first journalists who traveled to areas under Taliban control, according to local news outlet Tolo News.
He was also the head of the Ghazni Journalists’ Union, which represents press workers in Ghazni province, according to those reports.
Khalvatgar said that many of the threats came from local Taliban members upset with Nikzad’s work for international outlets, as well as his work with the journalist union.
Khalvatgar and Najib Sharifi, director of the Afghan Journalist Safety Committee, another local press freedom organization, who also spoke to CPJ via phone, both said they believed Nikzad was killed because of his work. Sharifi pointed to the recent targeted killings of journalists in Afghanistan. At least four other journalists were for their work in the country in 2020, according to CPJ research.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ordered an investigation into the shooting and described the killing as an “attack on freedom of speech and a crime against humanity,” according to those news reports.
The Afghan government blamed the Taliban, which controls large parts of Ghazni province, for the attack; the Taliban denied responsibility, according to Tolo News.
“The Taliban is involved in attacking journalists and the media because they are a secret enemy of freedom of expression and they see the media as a hurdle for hiding their acts,” said Dawa Khan Minapal, a presidential spokesperson, according to that report.
Ghazni Police Chief Khalid Wardak and a spokesperson for the president’s office did not respond to CPJ’s requests for comment sent via messaging app.