2 Radio Journalists Attacked by Gunmen in Afghanistan

Feb 6, 2015

KABUL, Afghanistan — Two radio journalists were hospitalized, one of them in a coma, after being attacked by gunmen in northern Afghanistan, the police and one of the victims said Saturday. It was the latest in a series of attacks on members of the Afghan news media.

Mohammad Ibrahim Hashemi, 22, and his brother Mohammad Musa Hashemi, 20, were attacked on Thursday evening outside their home in Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan Province, said Zabiullah Shujah, a spokesman for the provincial police. Mr. Shujah said one of the attackers, a man named Qayum, had been detained, and that he appeared to have a family connection with the victims, but that the motive was still unknown.

The attack left Mohammad Ibrahim Hashemi, a news editor who runs political and cultural programs, in a coma and his brother, a station operator, badly beaten. The brothers both work for Adib Radio in Pul-e-Khumri.

There was no claim of responsibility, but attention immediately focused on the Taliban. The insurgents have begun increasingly to target the media, including a January car bomb attack in Kabul that killed seven employees of a production company working for the country’s largest television network, Tolo TV.

Pul-e-Khumri, which is about 140 miles north of Kabul, has been the scene of heavy fighting this year between government forces and Taliban insurgents.

“Someone called from behind us, cursing,” Mohammad Musa Hashemi said by telephone after being released from the hospital. “When we turned to look they fired at us four times — three missed but one hit my brother in the head. I tried to carry him away, but they dragged me away from him. They put a pistol to my head to shoot me, but it didn’t fire, so they beat me.”

Mr. Hashemi said he and his brother had received many threatening phone calls warning them “to leave our jobs or we’ll be killed.” He said he believed it was a Taliban-affiliated attack. “They have threatened us in the past,” he said.

The year has gotten off to a deadly start for the Afghan news media. In addition to the Tolo TV attack, Hajji Mohammad Zubair Khaksar, a correspondent for a government-run broadcast network, was killed last week by gunmen in Nangarhar Province, east of Kabul. There was no claim of responsibility for that attack, but Mr. Khaksar and other journalists there had previously received death threats from the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State, which has established a foothold in the province.

“This is going to be a very bloody year for journalists, in my view,” said Najib Sharifi, director of the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee. The violence “reflects a shift in the Taliban’s approach. This is the beginning of a war against the media.”

Reacting to public outrage over the attacks, President Ashraf Ghani issued a decree last week that requires government forces, which themselves have often been responsible for violence against journalists, to treat the news media better and to aggressively reopen cold cases involving the murder of journalists. The police and media activists have also discussed how to better protect reporters.

But Mr. Sharifi, of the journalists’ safety committee, said it was unrealistic to think official protection would make a difference, noting that “you can’t have an armored car or a police escort for every journalist, or a gun.”

The Taliban’s war against the news media “will continue until they control the narrative of the media,” he said. Nytimes