A Swedish journalist was gunned down in broad daylight in the streets of Afghanistan’s capital on Tuesday, highlighting the growing threat to both foreign and local media at a critical time for the stability of the country.
Longtime correspondent Nils Horner, 51, was killed by an unidentified gunman, according to his employer, Swedish Radio.
Kabul police reported that Horner was shot in the head just before noon while standing near a street in an affluent area and died after being taken to a nearby hospital. He was with a local Afghan translator and driver who were questioned by police, police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai said.
It is unclear whether Horner was targeted as a journalist or more broadly as a foreigner. But the Afghanistan Journalists Center has raised concerns that members of the media are facing harassment, humiliation and even physical harm as Afghanistan enters an important transition phase with an upcoming presidential election and the impending departure of foreign troops.
Afghanistan has been wracked by war since the 1970s, making it long a dangerous place for journalists to practice their trade. Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, local media organizations have blossomed, but some journalists fear for the future as international forces prepare to withdraw.
The head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš, called on officials to do everything they can to bring Horner’s assailants to justice.
“I am deeply concerned about civilians, be they Afghans or foreigners, being victims of targeted violence against them — moreover, this time the target was a media worker,” he said in a statement.
On Monday, an Afghan journalist, Mukhtar Wafayee, was attacked and beaten by unknown assailants in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, AFJC reported. According to reports by other journalists in the area, two men accosted Wafayee, accused him of publishing propaganda and then severely beat him.
On Jan. 24, the body of Afghan journalist Noor Ahmad Noori was found in a bag, mutilated and stabbed, on the side of a road in south western Afghanistan.
Noori was a radio producer and had in the past worked as a translator for The New York Times. No motive for the killing was confirmed, but Noori’s wallet with money was found on his body, which ruled out robbery, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
CPJ says at least 24 journalists have been confirmed killed in Afghanistan since 1992. At least nine died in 2001, the year when the U.S. and European and local Afghan allies toppled the Taliban regime.
In its latest annual report, released in January, AFJC said threats to journalists have increased, and it catalogued 84 cases of violence against media in 2013, including two cases of murder, four injuries, four detentions, one conviction, as well as closure of two radio stations and an armed attack on another, as well as dozens of other threats, insults and beatings.
“These attacks violate the journalists’ right to life, undermine the public’s right to know and create an environment of self-censorship, especially in insecure southern and eastern provinces,” the report concluded.
“Keeping in mind the upcoming elections, reporters are seriously in need of law to have access to information, and if the government sources keep avoiding sharing information with media people, there is need to punish them,” AFJC argued.
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report