Afghan security forces check out the bus that was carrying employees of an Afghan TV network CNN
Organizations from around the world have strongly condemned the suicide attack on Wednesday that claimed the lives of at least seven TOLO TV staff members and injured 26 others.
The incident occurred after a suicide bomber detonated explosives targeting the bus that was carrying over 30 TOLO TV staff members.
In a statement issued by the U.S Embassy in Kabul, they said: “We strongly condemn tonight’s [Wednesday] attack on a bus carrying media professionals on Darulaman Road in Kabul. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families during this difficult time.”
“Murdering those who work to enlighten, educate, and entertain will not stop Afghans from exercising their universal human right to freedom of expression. A vibrant media is one of the great successes of the Afghan people over the past 14 years. We stand with the Afghan people and the Afghan government as they work to build peace and security in the country,” read their statement.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in a statement condemned the attack and said it extends its condolences to the families of all of those killed and wishes a speedy recovery for those injured.
“Strong and independent journalism, free from intimidation and fear of criminal violence, is essential for a healthy democracy and decent society,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Acting-Head of UNAMA.
“Afghanistan can be justly proud of its flourishing media sector. All steps must be taken to safeguard media professionals and freedom of expression against those who would use violence to impose their voice and views alone,” he added.
The Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned the attack and said: “Attacks aimed at crushing independent media organizations in Afghanistan are a direct assault on the very foundation of Afghan democracy – a free and open press.”
According to Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Today’s killings not only underscore the vulnerability of the media in the country, but the fragility of Afghan security under which the media must operate. We call on the government to seek out and prosecute the perpetrators of this crime as quickly as possible.”
Human Rights Watch meanwhile called on anti-government insurgency groups to immediately stop intentionally targeting civilians.
“The January 20 suicide attack on a minibus in Kabul transporting journalists affiliated with TOLO TV, Afghanistan’s 24-hour news channel, was an atrocity designed to undermine Afghanistan’s still-fragile media freedom,” they said in a statement.
“Both the Taliban and an individual who claims to represent a group that affiliates with the Islamic State have claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed seven journalists from the entertainment channel TOLO TV and its production wing.”
“A Pashto-language Taliban statement described the bombing as “revenge” for alleged “false allegations” against the insurgency group. The statement explicitly listed both TOLO TV and its news channel rival 1TV as “military targets” for allegedly serving as “informational warfare tools of the American and Crusading forces,” their statement read.
“The targeting of journalists reflects a depraved strategy to make media freedom a casualty of the ongoing conflict,” said Patricia Gossman, senior Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Designating journalists and other civilians as ‘military targets’ does not make them so, and deliberately attacking them constitutes a war crime.”
Gossman said Afghan media has faced increasing intimidation and violence in recent years and that the Taliban and other insurgent groups have used the media as a propaganda platform, and actively court the media in their campaign against the government, including pressuring reporters to cover their statements or not to write articles deemed critical.
“Afghan insurgents should respect the right for journalists to operate without fear for their lives from deliberate targeted attacks,” Gossman said.
“So long as insurgents falsely categorize journalists as ‘military targets,’ media freedom in Afghanistan is in peril,” she said.
Reporters Without Borders also stated that after the TOLO TV attack, entire media organizations are under threat of attack.
“Journalists are targeted throughout the world but now entire news organizations are threatened by large-scale attacks,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“Jihadists are among press freedom’s worst predators. As in Paris a year ago, killers decided to target a media outlet out of hatred for its editorial policies and hatred for free speech in general. We call on the Afghan authorities to assign all available resources to catching those responsible for this bombing as quickly as possible.”
TOLO TV and 1TV – Afghanistan’s two leading privately-owned TV channels – were named as “military targets” in a Taliban communiqué on 12 October last year.
The Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA) also condemned the attack and passed on their condolences to MOBY media group and TOLO TV.
“All media and journalist community is shocked and seriously sad at hearing this sad news,” they said in a statement.
“AIJA leadership and members across the country are saddened and share their condolences and sympathy with MOBY group and all media family of Afghanistan.”