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Afghanistan: The slaughterhouse of journalism

The war in Afghanistan has changed in many ways since its start in 2001, when the US attacked the Taliban an...

Posted: Sep 10, 2018 10:03 AM
Updated: Sep 10, 2018 10:03 AM

The war in Afghanistan has changed in many ways since its start in 2001, when the US attacked the Taliban and drove them out as a result of the 9/11 terror attacks. But now, in addition to its other horrors, the Afghan war has a new, cruel and senseless face: The mass killing of journalists.

It was on a sunny Monday morning in April of 2018 when security forces in the vicinity of NATO headquarters in Kabul were targeted with a motorbike packed with explosives. The area's importance and sensitivity increased the news value of this attack tenfold for the reporters in Kabul.

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As usual, journalists rushed to the scene to get photos, videos and interviews. About 20 journalists and cameramen went quickly to the military restricted landmark area known as Shash Darak.

Unaware of the fate awaiting them, they covered the story and sent updates, including live feeds, back to their offices. It was less than 20 minutes after they had arrived in the area when another explosion occurred.

A secondary suicide bomber, who had packed his advanced-type explosive materials inside a large video camera while carrying a microphone and a card looking like a press badge, reached the crowd of reporters who had gathered in one spot.

He detonated the video camera bomb in the midst of the journalists.

A darkness of indescribable bitterness fell upon the media in Afghanistan.

Nine journalists lost their lives in that attack on that black Monday.

The entire country was shaken by what had happened. Television channels mixed pictures of those dead journalists with tribute notes and mournful music that brought viewers to tears.

We all thought this was a one-time incident. Journalists had been murdered in the past in Afghanistan, but not in this manner. Not with this precision and planning. But most of us thought the journalists killed in this particular attack were collateral casualties -- probably the bomber had packed his explosives inside the camera to attack another location in the same district.

We washed the bodies of the reporters and wrapped them in white shrouds. Family members took their beloved relatives to their family graves for burial.

We didn't know which graveyard to go to first. All the journalists were being buried at the same time. Out of so much love for them and the pain of losing them, we all wanted to be present at each funeral.

On that day, two other journalists were assassinated in Afghanistan in two incidents elsewhere.

Following that awful Monday, all media organizations and press agencies advised their staff members to avoid going to incident areas for coverage without wearing a complete bulletproof vest and helmet kit.

But on Wednesday, this countermeasure proved useless.

A suicide bomber had attacked a sports complex in the western part of Kabul. After killing the main gate's security guard, he detonated his explosives amid the crowd of people who had gone to the complex to watch a traditional wrestling match.

My colleague who edits the Farsi section of the newspaper suggested we go to the area and cover the incident from there. I looked out the window with some suspicion and replied to him that the area is far away and we wouldn't get there before darkness fell in the insecure neighborhood.

We dropped the idea of going to the site unaware of the fact that we had just evaded death.

The casualty figures went higher and higher until reports of a secondary explosion started surfacing in the media.

It didn't take long before a journalist friend sent me a Facebook message saying journalists had been killed and wounded in the secondary terror attack.

In the newsroom, I was just blinking from one news timeline to another, reading every Facebook post, every tweet and every statement, hoping not to see the word "killed" anywhere.

In the meantime, I kept calling friends who had the habit of going to these incidents for firsthand coverage. Hands on two phones, eyes glued to multiple computer screens, I kept wishing that nobody was dead.

I went out to a balcony for a smoke while checking my Twitter feed on my phone.

Then I heard a colleague shout the name of a reporter whom I didn't know, saying he had been killed.

As I stepped back into the office, I saw that social media pages were filled with photos of the journalist who was killed. The pictures showed his torso covered in bulletproof body armor labeled "press," part of his destroyed face, his broken press badge, his phone and the lower part of his torso that was not covered in body armor.

I stared at the photos and I did not recognize him, but was still in shock at the loss of a fellow journalist.

My boss walked into the office and said, "what's the latest?" I told him the name of the reporter that I had heard was dead and showed him the photo.

He looked at me for a millisecond and said "no, no this is Samim Faramarz."

I was devastated.

Holding my head in my hands, I rotated in the tall chair I was sitting in. Within a second, I had burst into tears -- and in a minute, I was screaming.

After a few moments, I remembered what they had died for: freedom of expression.

I gathered all the strength I had and took my hands to the keyboard of one of the computers in front of me and though I could barely see the screen through my tears, I wrote this tweet:

"I am very sad to report with tears that my good friend and journalist Samim Faramarz of ToloNews has lost his life in the second suicide bombing in Kabul today."

The tears didn't stop.

I covered the deaths of Samim Faramarz and Ramiz Ahmadi and kept praying for the wounded journalists.

It's evident that the insurgents have adopted a new technique. They are targeting journalists and the media community in our country.

Bulletproof jackets and helmets cannot wholly protect us, and the plea of every Afghan journalist is clear: stop killing journalists because journalism is not a crime.

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