Afghan Journalist Murdered

The Voice of Peace Has Been Silenced

The number of targeted attacks on women who play an active role in public life in Afghanistan is on the increase. The murder of Zakia Zaki on 6 June is the latest instalment in an appalling series of murders in Afghanistan. By Ratbil Shamel and Sayed Rohulla Yasir

The number of targeted attacks on women who play an active role in public life in Afghanistan is on the increase. The murder of the journalist and human rights activist Zakia Zaki on 6 June is the latest instalment in an appalling series of murders in Afghanistan. Ratbil Shamel and Sayed Rohulla Yasir report

Murdered: Afghan journalist Zakia Zaki and her child (photo: AP)
Her success made her a lot of enemies: Zakia Zaki survived by six children, her husband, and thousands of incredulous people mourning her death

​​Zakia Zaki was the head of the local radio station "sadaye solh" (the voice of peace) and reported mainly on the regrettable situation of women in Afghanistan.

Her success made her a lot of enemies; enemies who have absolutely no qualms about using their AK-47s to silence any voices of freedom. Zakia Zaki was silenced. She is survived by six children, her husband, and thousands of incredulous people mourning her death.

"For me, she is still alive. I see her in front of me every day and I still cannot believe that this woman, who was so thirsty for life, is now dead," says Saber Yusufi, a friend of the victim. Many people in northern Afghanistan, where her voice was heard on a daily basis and her courageous reports admired, share these sentiments.

Certainly not part of Kabul's "in-crowd"

She was a girl from the North. As her friend Yusufi explains, that means that she wasn't part of Kabul's in-crowd, who can do no more than talk about women's rights.

She rolled up her sleeves and got involved. She was always there for those who needed assistance. In short, 35-year-old Zakia Zaki was a journalist with a mission.

She wanted to see an improvement in the lives of Afghanistan's women. This was both her manifesto and her inspiration. According to her friends, despite the fact that she received many offers to move to Kabul, she remained true to the town of her birth, Gabulu Saraj, in the province of Parwan. The people in her home town loved her because of her decision and her colleagues in the Afghan capital respected her for it.

This is why countless members of the press from all over the country came to her funeral – without cameras and microphones. Fazel Sancharaki, chairman of the National Association of Journalists in Kabul, was impressed by the sympathy demonstrated by the locals.

"She was more than just a journalist; she was a human rights activist who stood up for those less fortunate than herself," said Sancharaki. "It is no wonder that we saw so many sad faces in the town. Hundreds of people came to pay their last respects."

A voice that spoke out against the Taliban

Zakia Zaki had a reputation for independence. She became politically active long before the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001. When radical Islamists captured Kabul in the mid 1990s she decided not to flee her home town, which is situated a mere 60 km from the capital.

Instead she decided to campaign against the Taliban in her own way. With the help of her husband she set up the radio station "sadaye solh" in northern Afghanistan, which was not under Taliban rule at the time.

She started out as a reporter, spokeswoman, secretary, manager, cleaning lady, director, and marketing manager in one. Not only that, but she was the only women's voice to speak out loud and clear on the airwaves against Mullah Omar and his inhuman policies.

For the holy warriors of the Taliban, whose moral beliefs dictate that women should not speak out loud in public, she was the devil incarnate. They believe that in order not to lead men astray, women should not, where possible, leave the home at all.

But Zakia Zaki spoke. She spoke not only outside the home, but on the radio. She was heard denouncing the Taliban as human monsters by thousands of men – a completely unacceptable state of affairs for the leaders of the Taliban.

Steady stream of threats

This is why Schokria Barekzai, an MP from Kabul, is in no doubt as to who is behind her murder: "It was those who generally want to oppress women," says Barekzai. "They consider the freedom of the press and free thinking to be a major threat."

Zakia Zaki's husband has said that his wife received a steady stream of threats from an unknown source. She, however, never wanted to take the threats too seriously. In fact, Zaki frequently told her friends that if they gave up the fight for a better life, they were already dead. She was determined to continue the struggle.

Sancharaki of the "National Association of Journalists" accuses the government in Kabul of having abandoned Zaki in her struggle. He now fears that the more women are targeted by attacks, the smaller the number of families that will be willing to send their daughters to school or allow them to get some kind of training.

For Saber Yusufi, the most important thing at the moment is not finding out who murdered his beloved friend. What counts for him is the bitter realisation that she is no longer there – whether he can come to terms with this fact or not.

Since his last visit to Zaki's husband and six children, Yusufi knows that while the police are looking for two perpetrators, they do not as yet have any suspects. Like most other political murders in Afghanistan, Zakia Zaki's murder will in all probability remain unsolved.

It has yet to be decided what will happen to Zakia Zaki's life project, her radio station. The members of the station's team all want to continue even though they know that it will be very difficult to do so without her.

Ratbil Shamel / Sayed Rohulla Yasir

© Deutsche Welle/ 2007

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

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