By Stephen Leahy
Nov 5 (IPS) – “I am staying in Afghanistan to prove that women are brave and strong,” says Afghan journalist Farida Nekzad.
Nekzad has been threatened with death even as she attended the funeral of Zakia Zaki, a female radio broadcaster murdered by gunmen as she slept with her eight-month-old son at her home near Kabul in June.
“I was given asylum by some countries but I am not going to hide,” declared Nekzad, the current editor in chief of the Pajhwok News Agency, the sole independent news agency in Afghanistan.
Nekzad was in Toronto last Thursday to receive one of this year’s three International Press Freedom Awards from the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE). CJFE promotes and defends free expression and press freedom and grants thousands of dollars to aid persecuted journalists in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.
Iraqi journalist Sahar Al-Haideri, shot and killed on Jun. 7 this year by four unidentified gunmen in Mosul, and Canadian journalist Ali Iman Sharmarke, who was killed by a remote-controlled landmine in Somalia Aug. 11, were the other award recipients.
Sahar Al-Haideri’s family received the 3,000-dollar award in a separate ceremony in Damascus because Canadian officials would not grant a travel visa. Al-Haideri reported on humanitarian issues in Iraq, including the plight of women and minority groups. Despite threats and attempts on her life that left her badly wounded and forced her to move her family to Syria for safety, she continued to write about the human rights violations of the extremist groups in her home town of Mosul.
Of the 97 journalists killed so far this year, half were in Iraq and almost all were Iraqis. Since 2001, 475 journalists have been murdered, nearly all specifically targeted because of their work. In the 10-year existence of CJFE, hardly anyone has been prosecuted for killing a reporter, said Arnold Amber, the group’s president.
Despite the mounting death toll, more and more journalists continue to stand up and speak out on behalf of truth over fear and courage in the face of oppression, Amber said.
However, “the murder of journalists has become a very serious problem for the world,” he said.
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