Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Headlines, Human Rights, Press Freedom

AFGHANISTAN: Media Outrage Over Coalition Killing of Reporter

Killid Correspondents*

KABUL, Sep 19 2009 (IPS) - For many Afghans, slain Afghan journalist Sultan Munadi has become a symbol for all that is wrong with the United States-led war in Afghanistan.

Sultan Munadi was shot by coalition commandos who freed the British journalist he was working for. Credit: Najibullah Musafer/Killid

Sultan Munadi was shot by coalition commandos who freed the British journalist he was working for. Credit: Najibullah Musafer/Killid

One thousand and thirteen Afghan civilians died due to the conflict in the first six months of this year, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, a 24 percent increase over the same period in 2008, when 818 civilians were killed.

This figure does not reflect the possibly thousands more who perished due to forced displacement and ruined crops caused by the war.

Munadi, an accomplished and respected reporter in his own right, was working as a translator and guide for New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell, a Briton, on a story about possible civilian casualties.

On Sep. 8, the pair travelled to Kunduz, where U.S. bombers called in by German commander Col. Georg Klein laid waste a fuel tanker that had been hijacked by insurgent fighters.

A NATO fact-finding team estimated that about 125 people were killed in the bombing, while a delegation of the Ministry of Interior was sent to gather details about the civilian casualties. A full investigation is still being undertaken. The investigation faces the grim challenge of distinguishing between civilian and insurgent remains, as all were equally turned into ashes.

The two reporters travelled north to survey the damage and interview witnesses. According to Farrell's account of the ordeal, posted on a Times blog, he and Munadi visited the site of the ruined tanker on the second day of their reporting trip to Kunduz. They spent at least a half-hour there, talking to local residents.

Then the Taliban showed up.

The two were immediately taken into custody and for four days whisked from hideout to hideout, in an effort to avoid detection. However, coalition forces were monitoring their cell-phone conversations and a helicopter-borne rescue operation was soon mounted by British commandos.

The commandos stormed the hideout and Munadi, dressed in Afghan clothes, came out shouting "Journalist, Journalist." He was immediately shot.

One of the commandos was also killed in the raid.

The British spirited their countryman away from the scene, but left Munadi's body behind to the dust and vermin.

The fact that he was killed by foreign forces while Farrell survived the attack, gives many Afghans the feeling that the coalition doesn't place too high a value on Afghan lives.

At a press conference held at Kabul's Central Hotel last week by the Civil Society and Human Rights Network, Afghan journalists and Munadi's father vented their frustration at what they view as a cavalier attitude of the coalition towards Afghan lives and deaths. "This is a national disaster for Afghanistan," said one speaker.

A statement released prior to the event said, "International forces must respect the human rights of Afghan citizens equally to those of their own citizens… NATO and ISAF forces should treat Afghan citizens, especially victims captured by Taliban, without discrimination during their operations."

Munadi's father was more plainspoken.

"Coalition forces never respect the Afghan people," said the white bearded, stooped senior citizen. "They behave like animals. They deliberately killed my son. I ask the assembled Afghan media to stand up and show strength against the government and foreign forces. Ask them why they behave in this way."

While the assembled journalists nodded in agreement at the elder Munadi's harsh words for the foreigners, there was plenty of scorn left over for the Afghan government.

"The government has done nothing to get to the bottom of this killing, or the killings of many other journalists, as they promised to do," said one newspaper editor.

"Why hasn't the government shown a serious response to civilian deaths?" asked another Afghan journalist. "They never do a thing."

In a telephone interview with Radio Free Afghanistan, Reza Moini, a researcher at Reporters Without Borders, also demanded a thorough investigation. "What is important for us is that Munadi's killing happened under circumstances that have raised many questions. That's why our statement demanded an investigation into this incident …"

The outrage over Munadi's death is compounded by the fact that he is only the latest in a long line of professional reporters killed at the hands of foreigners or insurgents.

Shayima Rezaee, Zakiye Zaki, Sange Amaj, Ajmal Naqshbandi, Rohani and Jawid, were all working diligently to bring news to the Afghan people when their lives were brutally ended by one side or another of this conflict.

Afghan media professionals pledged to work together to get to the bottom of Sultan's slaying.

"Only we can fully investigate this issue," said one journalist. "It is our voices that will shake the world." (Killid is an independent Afghan media group. IPS and Killid have been partners since 2004.)

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