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RSF sounds alarm on World Press Freedom Day

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(Last Updated On: May 3, 2021)

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ) on Monday sounded the alarm about the plight of the media and the future for journalism in Afghanistan.

In a statement issued by the RSF, the organizations said: “The press freedom situation is disastrous in Afghanistan 14 months after the Taliban and United States signed a peace accord on 29 February 2020, and eight months after the Taliban and Afghan government began peace talks.”

At least 20 journalists and media workers have been the victims of targeted attacks in the past six months and eight, including four women, have been killed. Around 30 others have received death threats in connection with their journalistic work, RSF stated.

“The climate of terror keeps on growing and particularly affects women journalists, whose situation was already precarious.

“The precarity of Afghan women journalists has increased not only as a result of the physical dangers but also as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown,” CPAWJ director Farida Nekzad said.

“At least 20% of them have lost their jobs or have been forced to take unpaid leave by their employers.”

UNAMA also called for the campaign of violence against journalists and media workers in the country to end.

“Journalists must be protected, and those who commit acts of violence and murder against workers in the sector must be brought to justice,” UNAMA said in a statement.

“We recognise that female journalists and media professionals are particularly at risk. The impunity for such crimes remains a serious challenge and creates a chilling environment, limiting the media sector’s ability to operate freely.

“Afghanistan’s free and independent media sector has been hard won. Many Afghans have sacrificed their time, their energy, their money and, for some, their lives to build this crucial public good. We pledge our continued support in defence of a free and independent Afghan media. It must be defended,” the statement read.

Afghanistan’s chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah also acknowledged the importance of the day and tweeted: “While I am celebrating the remarkable achievements of Afghanistan’s media and our courageous journalists, I also recognize and remember their sacrifices in defending and shaping a vibrant free press.

“As always I am committed to a free press and access to information,” he said.

The wider international community in Afghanistan also issued a statement on reaffirming commitment to supporting Afghan journalists and the media sector.

“The UK remains committed to supporting Afghanistan. A free and independent media and a strong media sector is an essential part of an inclusive and representative Afghanistan. As we transition to a new chapter of international support for Afghanistan, as Afghanistan’s international friends and partners, we reaffirm our commitment to stand by its journalists and the media sector”

“As Afghanistan’s international friends and partners, we reaffirm our commitment to stand by its journalists and the media sector.

“We continue to support Afghan journalists, to stand up for their rights, and to oppose undue restrictions on their work,” the statement read.

The international community also condemned the campaign of violence against journalists and media professionals and said this “must end”.

“Journalists must be protected, and those who commit acts of violence and murder against workers in the sector must be brought to justice.

We recognise that female journalists and media professionals are particularly at risk. The impunity for such crimes remains a serious challenge and creates a chilling environment, limiting the media sector’s ability to operate freely,” read the statement.

“Afghanistan’s free and independent media sector has been hard won. Many Afghans have sacrificed their time, their energy, their money and, for some, their lives to build this crucial public good. We pledge our continued support in defence of a free and independent Afghan media. It must be defended.”

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Deputy leader of Taliban faction sustains ‘serious’ injuries in skirmish

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(Last Updated On: May 12, 2021)

Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, deputy head of the Taliban splinter group in the western part of the country, was badly injured in a skirmish in Herat province, sources said.

Provincial officials told Ariana News that Niazi was wounded in a skirmish with Taliban militants in the Guzara district of the province.

The sources stated that Niazi, who reportedly is a pro-Taliban commander, is currently hospitalized in Herat’s public hospital.

According to the sources, three of Niazi’s bodyguards were killed in the skirmish.

The Taliban has not commented in this regard.

Niazi was believed to have been Mullah Mohammad Rasool’s deputy – the head of the faction that split from the Taliban in November 2015, following the announcement in July that year that the Taliban’s longtime leader Mullah Omar was dead.

The dissident faction’s announcement was at the time believed to be the first public and official split of the Afghan Taliban since the group formed in the 1990s.

Omar’s deputy at the time was Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, who claimed power — sparking a battle over the group’s leadership.

Rasool and Niazi were among several Taliban commanders who challenged Mansoor’s appointment as leader. Mansoor was leader of the group from 29 July 2015 to 21 May 2016 but was killed in a drone strike by the United States in Pakistan.

Niazi was born 1968 in Pashtoon Zarghoon district, in Herat province and served as governor of Kabul Province under the Taliban regime.

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Barchi residents look back on maternity ward attack, appeal to MSF to return

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(Last Updated On: May 12, 2021)

It has been a year since the deadly attack on the maternity ward in a Dasht-e Barchi hospital in Kabul, a year filled with memories of the horror of the attack where gunmen cold-bloodedly gunned down mothers and mothers-to-be, staff and children in a four-hour siege.

But for the people of Dasht-e-Barchi, the attack at the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) run maternity ward, and the 24 people killed, including mothers and mothers-to-be, will never be forgotten.

For some local residents, MSF’s decision soon after the attack to withdraw from the hospital left them “shocked and hopeless”.

On Tuesday, Dr Isabelle Defourny, MSF director of operations, said: “Some weeks later, we had to make the difficult choice to withdraw from Dasht-e-Barchi. We knew we would leave behind huge needs.

“For many women in the neighbourhood, our maternity ward was a much-needed resource; 16,000 deliveries had taken place there in 2019 alone. But we couldn’t continue our activity after what happened,” Defourny said.

Thanking MSF for their services at the hospital over the years, one resident in the area, Ahmad Tamim, said on Wednesday: “People will never forget MSF ‘s generous service in its Dasht-e Barchi project and as well the tragic closure of the hospital that left everyone shocked, helpless and hopeless.

“All the people wished you would have continued your assistance in their slum and ghetto area after the attack, but unfortunately your abandonment became another sorrow for them,” he said.

For one MSF employee, Sayed Jawed Hashimi, who hid in a safe room during the attack, the scenes will haunt him for years to come.

“The worst memory ever! And the hardest four hours that we spent in the safe room, under shooting, bombing, and the dead bodies (mothers, babies, care takers, our colleague). What we saw after getting out of safe rooms, was like a nightmare, which takes several years to forget,” he told Ariana News.

Another resident of the area Omulbanin Nabizada, said simply to MSF: “Wish you could stay.”

Yet another appealed to them to resume work in their predominantly Shiite Hazara area.

Mystafa Asghari said: “Please resume your activities.”

Asila Mohammad said to Ariana News: “MSF should resume work in Kabul [in Dasht-e-Barchi] in order to save more mothers and children,” while Asadullah Azimi said: “We were victims and we were deprived of your cooperation for a crime others committed.”

Sakina Amiry, an Afghan journalist, stated: “After the terrorist attack the people have been in desperate need of health services. The hundred-bed hospital [which housed MSF’s maternity ward] now limits services,” she said.

“The maternity ward now only handles normal deliveries. MSF doctors please help those who even do not have bread to eat,” she said.

The maternity ward attack was carried out in the same area that was battered on Saturday in a deadly bombing against a girls school that killed at least 87 people, mostly teenage girls.

But, like many attacks, no group has claimed responsibility for this tragedy.

AFP reported Wednesday that few people in the area expect authorities to track down the perpetrators of the latest carnage — or prevent similar massacres in the future.

The Afghan government has continued to blame the Taliban for the maternity ward attack, but interior ministry spokesman Tareq Arian says no arrests were ever made.

The US, however, pinned the blame on the Islamic State group (Daesh).

“No evidence was publicly brought to support those claims,” Defourny told AFP.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Defourny said that while they didn’t think the MSF was specifically targeted, “the first targets of this attack were pregnant women and women in labour in a maternity ward which we ran.”

“We know that the attackers directly headed to the maternity ward and killed the pregnant women and women in labour who were present there. Two children who had come for routine vaccination and another caretaker were also shot dead in the attack. Healthcare staff were also killed and injured,” she said.

“We can’t work in an environment where patients and medical staff are targeted, and where we can’t prevent such a massacre from happening again.

“This attack clearly targeted pregnant women in a maternity ward run by MSF. And the fact-finding exercise confirmed that none of the different parties with whom we have relations in Afghanistan gave us specific alerts on it.

“Our will to continue working in Afghanistan is motivated by the dire medical needs of the Afghan people… but can only continue if minimum conditions of safety are ensured…,” she said.

“When MSF returned to Afghanistan 12 years ago – after we had withdrawn in 2004 following the killing of five of our colleagues – we knew it was one of the most dangerous countries to work in. At that time, our analysis was that it was possible to craft a safe working space for us, by renewing our engagement with all the different parties involved.

“Since then, after the attack on our hospital in Kunduz, and the one on the Dasht-e-Barchi maternity ward, we have to admit that this wasn’t enough. In these two attacks, 66 people were killed – by far the highest number of deaths in our programmes around the world over the last six years.

“Our organisation can’t accept the idea of integrating the loss of our staff or of the patients we treat as part of our work. We maintain our freedom to withdraw and stop our activities when we think that the risk of such severe attacks repeating themselves is too great,” she said.

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Taliban capture key district near Afghan capital

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(Last Updated On: May 12, 2021)

Taliban insurgents captured a key district just outside the Afghan capital Kabul in central Maidan Wardak province on Tuesday, forcing government forces to retreat, security officials have confirmed.

The capture of Nerkh district comes amid intensifying violence across the country following an announcement by the Taliban of a three-day ceasefire over Eid-ul Fitr.

Reuters reported that Tariq Arian, an interior ministry spokesman, said government troops made a “tactical retreat” from the district centre, which is a gateway to Kabul, after a heavy firefight with the Taliban.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, wrote on Twitter that they had killed and captured some members of the Afghan security forces after seizing the district. He added that they had also seized a large cache of ammunition.

The Afghan government did not comment on casualties among the security forces.

The Taliban have dug in, in Wardak, which lies less than an hour’s drive west of Kabul, and in nearby Logar province to the south.

Afghan officials say the Taliban have used the provinces – gateways to the capital – as launchpads for hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings on Kabul, Reuters reported.

Abdul Rahman Tariq, Maidan Wardak’s governor confirmed the fall of the district to Ariana News.

“Unfortunately, as a result of a compromise, the Taliban took control of the district yesterday and the security forces made a tactical retreat,” he said.

Deputy spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, Fawad Aman tweeted Wednesday that Afghan commando forces have arrived in Maidan Wardak province.

“Nirkh district will become a Taliban cemetery,” Aman tweeted.

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