By Freshta Ghani
On World Press Day, Zan Times looks at what happened to the journalists who were targeted by a terrorist attack at the Tabian Cultural Centre on March 11, 2023. In addition to nearly 40 people being wounded, most of them journalists, three journalists and students – Hossain Naderi, Sohail Sadiqi, and Akmal Nazari – were killed.
A day after the explosion, ISIS claimed responsibility, saying it targeted the gathering because of the presence of Shias and journalists. Nine days later, the Taliban claimed that they had arrested an ISIS member who was involved in the attack and published a video of a young man who claimed he went to the Tablian Cultural Centre under the pretext of learning to use computers. “I placed the explosives inside the Tabian Cultural Centre and when I left this centre, it exploded a few moments later,” he said in the video.
Despite repeated efforts by Zan Times to talk to the officials of the Tabian Cultural Centre, they refused to be interviewed.
Those who died
On that day in March, Khawaja Sharifullah Seddiqi, a government reporter for the National Radio and Television of Afghanistan, had gone to a remote village in Mazar-e-Sharif to work on a story when he received a call from the news manager informing him of the explosion. He was told to immediately go to the site and report on what occurred.
When Seddiqi arrived at what was left of the Tabian Cultural Centre, he discovered that his son, Sohail Seddiqi, had been at the centre during the attack. When Seddiqi can’t find his son at the centre, he starts checking nearby hospitals. Finally, after an hour of frantic searching, he finds his son in the emergency room of a hospital in Mazar-e-Sharif. Seddiqi’s son was seriously wounded in the head and in a coma. “Doctors told us that you should transfer your son to Kabul, as there is not proper equipment here,” says Seddiqi.
Seddiqi was able to move his son to a hospital in Kabul city but he never recovered. He died in hospital on March 21. Seddiqi says that his 20-year-old son was a computer science student at a private university and had been working as an intern at Tabian Cultural Centre for more than six months.
Another of those who died, Akmal Nazari, was a 19-year-old student of journalism at Balkh University, who, like Sohail Seddiqi, was doing an internship with Rah Farda Radio and Television. His older brother, Mohibullah Nazari, tells Zan Times that Akmal occasionally went to Tabian Cultural Centre to participate in training courses. On the day of the explosion, he was there seeking permission to hold a training seminar at the centre.
“Akmal’s great dream was to become a professional journalist and be able to succeed in this field,” says Mohibullah Nazari. Instead, his brother died the day after they celebrated his 19th birthday.
Hossain Naderi was a law and political science student at a private university and had been working for two years as a reporter with the Sadai-Afghan (Ava) media, which operates under the umbrella of the Tabian Cultural Centre. One of his relatives tells Zan Times that Naderi was the sole breadwinner of his family of six and had lived in Mazar to pay for his family’s expenses. “Hossain used to send his salary to Sar-e-pul province every month to cover the expenses of his family members and he did not return home for 9 months because he did not have money for the fare,” the relation explains. This source says that Naderi’s family is facing such financial problems that a Shia charity paid for his burial. The relation also noted that his family has not received any help from the journalistic or media organizations where he worked.
The fate of injured journalists
Zan Times also spoke to 10 journalists who were injured in the attack, eight of which say they cannot afford to pay for their medical and rehabilitation treatment.
Rasool Salek, a local television reporter, who suffered a ruptured eardrum in the explosion and needs surgery, says he is the sole breadwinner of a family of five and he says that he gets less than $100 a month, all of which goes to feeding his family.
Salek, who estimates his medical treatment would cost around $1,000, says that he was injured because of his work, but no institution has stepped forward to help him. “Except for the first day, when the Committee for the Protection of Journalists paid for our first day of treatment, no other organization has helped us,” he tells Zan Times.
Haseebullah Hazem, a reporter for a local TV station, still has medical issues, including trouble with his eardrums after being wounded in the head. In addition to not having enough money for his treatment, he is also worried about losing his job: “The office gave me one week to get better and then I had to be back on the job. If I can’t start my treatment, they will hire someone else and fire me.”
The growing danger of being a journalist
The Afghanistan Journalists Center announced that violence and threats against journalists have increased by nearly 65 percent compared to last year, according to a new report published for World Press Day. It recorded at least 213 incidents of violence, threats, and arrests of journalists in the 12 months starting in May 2022. The statistics include the death of Hossain Naderi, as well as the wounding of 21 journalists, six incidents of physical violence, 115 cases of threats, and at least 70 incidents of journalists being arrested. Among those journalists arrested, Morteza Behboudi and Khairullah Parhar, are still in Taliban custody.
On January 5, 2023, Morteza Behboudi, an Afghan-French journalist, arrived in Afghanistan from France to work on a news story. Two days later, as he went to the Taliban to get a work permit, he was arrested in Kabul.
Aleksandra Mostovaja, Morteza Behboudi’s wife, tells Zan Times, she has received no update on her husband’s condition and is worried about his mental and physical health.
Speaking to Zan Times, Abdul Matin Qaney, the spokesman of the Ministry of Information and Culture, confirmed Behboudi’s arrest, but would not provide any information about the charges against him. He said that the Taliban Information and Culture Media Violation Commission is working to “solve his issue,” adding, “We hope to secure his rights.”
Aleksandra Mostovaja says that she asked her husband not to go to Afghanistan because of the dangers and threats. “He said, ‘I should help and serve my people in any case because I love my country with all my heart and soul,’” she says.