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Mourners pray and light candles to pay tribute to Afghan journalists killed in a April 30 suicide attack in Kabul.

KABUL -- Afghanistan's slain journalists were remembered on World Press Freedom Day -- May 3 – just three days after the deadliest attack on the country's media since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.

Ten journalists were killed on April 30 -- nine by an Islamic State (IS) suicide bomber in Kabul and another in the eastern province of Khost -- in what all appeared to have been targeted attacks.

The attacks killed two RFE/RL journalists and an RFE/RL trainee, an AFP photographer, a BBC reporter, and journalists from Afghanistan's Tolo News, 1TV, and Mashal TV.

Omar Waraich, Amnesty International's deputy director for South Asia, said on May 3 that Afghanistan’s journalists are "among the bravest in the world."

"Working in some of the most difficult conditions, they have faced threats, intimidation, and violence for simply doing their jobs," Waraich said.

The killings have shaken Afghanistan's tight-knit journalist community, where many reporters and photographers are close friends and colleagues who look out for one another as they work in an increasingly hostile environment.

But they have remained defiant, with dozens of Afghan news editors and executives returning to the site of the Kabul bombings hours later on April 30 in protest.

"World Press Freedom Day reminds me and my colleagues of the importance of reporting -- reporting for a vibrant democracy," said Parwiz Kawa, editor-in-chief of the Hasht-e-Subh Daily newspaper.

'Unfathomable Crime'

1TV editor-in-chief Abdullah Khenjani said May 3 was a "mourning day" for the broadcaster, which lost a reporter and cameraman in the April 30 blast.

Khenjani said his colleagues ae heartbroken, "especially when we see the empty chairs... in our newsroom."

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said the deliberate killing of journalists in Afghanistan was "an unfathomable crime," and the those killed in the April 30 attacks "embodied courage and hope for their country."

"Afghan journalists who work in an increasingly hostile environment deserve more support and protection," said Lotfullah Najafizada, director of Tolo News.

Afghanistan was ranked in 2017 by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) as the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists.

Afghan media outlets have condemned the government's failure to protect them, particularly at the scene of suicide attacks where secondary blasts are a constant concern.

In London on May 3, around 100 journalists held a vigil outside the BBC's Broadcasting House to pay tribute to the fallen journalists in Afghanistan, observing a minute's silence.

In Pakistan, where fears of militant attacks as well as government crackdowns are growing, journalists marked World Press Freedom Day with a protest march in Islamabad.

They carried photos of fallen colleagues, including those from Afghanistan, and banners with slogans like "Killed but not silenced."

Targeting Of Journalists

Pakistan also is considered one of the most dangerous places for media workers, with journalists caught between militants and the military.

Enforced disappearances are on the rise, newspaper columns are being censored by authorities, and TV channels have been forced off the air for failing to follow the government's official line.

The Islamabad office of Radio Mashaal, a Pashto-language service of RFE/RL, was closed by Pakistani authorities on January 19 on the orders of the ISI intelligence agency -- which accused Radio Mashaal journalists of threatening Pakistan's unity, national security, and reputation.

Russia's Ministry of Justice has designated RFE/RL as a "foreign agent."

RFE/RL journalists are serving jail sentences on politically motivated charges or are being held incommunicado in Ukraine's Russian-occupied Crimea region and Russia-backed separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.

RFE/RL journalists and their families also have faced abuse and crackdowns by authorities in Iran, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.

“The targeting of journalists anywhere must stop,” Kent, the RFE/RL president, said.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, AFP, and BBC
Chechen human rights activist Oyub Titiyev has been in detention since early January. (file photo)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is seeking help from world soccer’s governing body to obtain the release of Oyub Titiyev, a Chechen human rights defender being held by Russia on drug charges that his associates say are fabricated.

HRW said on May 3 that FIFA should use its "leverage" with the Kremlin ahead of the June 14 start of the 2018 World Cup soccer championship to secure Titiyev's unconditional release.

"To its credit, FIFA recently adopted human rights policies to guide its operations," said Rachel Denber, deputy director of HRW's Europe and Central Asia division.

"Now, just a few weeks before the World Cup starts, it's game time," Denber said. "Oyub Titiyev’s freedom is on the line, and FIFA should make full use of its leverage, at the highest levels."

HRW said it sent a letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, urging him to personally ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to order Titiyev's release.

HRW's statement follows a call by Amnesty International on May 2 for Russian authorities to "immediately and unconditionally" release Titiyev.

It also comes as the Supreme Court of Chechnya on May 3 was scheduled to begin a hearing into Titiyev's appeal against his pretrial detention.

Western governments have also voiced concerns about Titiyev's case and called for his release.

The 60-year-old Titiyev heads the Chechen office of the Russian human rights organization Memorial. He has been in pretrial detention in Chechnya since his arrest there on January 9 on charges of marijuana possession.

Titiyev had been stopped and detained by police while in his car. Chechen authorities later said drugs had been found in his vehicle.

Titiyev has denied the allegations. Both he and Memorial insist the bag of marijuana had been planted.

HRW called the case against Titiyev "fabricated" and said it "seems to be part of an effort by Chechen authorities to shut Memorial out of the region."

HRW said Memorial is "the only rights group remaining on the ground in Chechnya, and its departure would leave victims of human rights abuses with no local recourse."

Titiyev's pretrial detention was initially ordered by the Shali City Court in Chechnya.

A district court in Grozny on April 25 extended Titiyev’s pretrial detention for an additional month.

If convicted, Titiyev faces up to 10 years in prison.

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About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


Journalists In Trouble

RFE/RL journalists take risks, face threats, and make sacrifices every day in an effort to gather the news. Our "Journalists In Trouble" page recognizes their courage and conviction, and documents the high price that many have paid simply for doing their jobs. More