Najwa Alimi and the safety of journalists in Afghanistan

Published 10 December 2019 in:

Photo: ZAN TV

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, a largely independent media landscape has emerged in Afghanistan with a plethora of media outlets. In the 2019 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, Afghanistan ranks 121st out of 180 countries, ahead of several other countries in the region. At the same time, Afghanistan remains one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists.

The deteriorating security situation constitutes a great threat to freedom of expression, press freedom and the right to information. In 2018 there were 121 incidents in which journalists were attacked, threatened, wounded or killed. Seventeen journalists were killed last year, 15 of them by the Taliban or ISKP (Islamic State in Khorasan Province). An additional nine journalists were killed in an attack by a suicide bomber in Kabul in April. 

The Afghan journalist Najwa Alimi conducts her work in this dangerous and challenging environment. She is seen on television reporting for the Afghan news channel Zan TV. The channel is the only one in the country that has an entirely female crew both in front of and behind the cameras. Alimi is known to be a fearless reporter and reports on sensitive topics, such as women’s rights, social vulnerability and homelessness. For her fight for freedom of expression and women’s rights, Najwa Alimi was awarded this year’s Per Anger Prize, the Swedish Government’s award for Human Rights. 

“I want to demonstrate that women can work in an industry considered taboo for them. I realised that journalism was the quickest way if I wanted to reach women all around Afghanistan, and that it could serve as a platform to fight for women’s rights,” says Najwa Alimi. 

Sweden has a long commitment to press freedom in Afghanistan. Every year the Embassy of Sweden brings together Afghan journalists, policymakers and academics to put the spotlight on the safety of media workers, the challenges within the sector and the enhancement of press freedom, freedom of expression and access to information in Afghanistan. The event also commemorates the Swedish journalist Nils Horner, who was murdered in Kabul six years ago. This year, the Swedish Drive for Democracy provided additional inspiration for the seminar.

Ambassador Caroline Vicini and her team are committed to continuing to put press freedom at the core of the Embassy’s work. Sweden regularly raises the issues of democracy and human rights at a high political level and has a strong and respectful relationship with the Government of Afghanistan. The Embassy also maintains a wide network of journalists and media outlets to keep an open dialogue on developments in the sector. In a country with fair legislation but weak implementation and institutions, the watchful eye of the media is crucial. 

“A free media is the oxygen of democracy,” Ambassador Vicini says.

This year’s event had the theme ‘Safeguarding the Space for Free Media in Afghanistan’. Thirty journalists and government officials participated in the event, including State Minister for Human Rights and International Relations Dr Sima Samar. 

“Peace is not just about ending war, it is equally about burying silence,” Dr Samar said. 

Author: Karolina Lindén, Embassy of Sweden in Kabul