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Journalists Fleeing Afghanistan Over Insecurity

FILE - Mourners carry the body of a bombing victim in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 21, 2016. A day earlier, a Taliban suicide bomber had targeted a minibus carrying Moby Group journalists.

An Afghan media watchdog estimates that 300 journalists have fled Afghanistan for Europe in the past year because of growing security concerns.

The journalists include employees of major TV networks such as 1TV and Tolo, the country’s leading commercial broadcaster, according to Sidiqullah Tawhidi of Nai-Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan, a local media advocacy organization.

Some of the journalists fled in groups of 15 to 20 while others left the country with their families, Tawhidi said in a phone interview with VOA’s Afghanistan service.

"They’ve tried to reach Europe via Turkey and Greece," Tawhidi said. "Some of them have arrived in Europe. Others are either in Turkey or Greece."

His group surveyed media outlets around Afghanistan to estimate the number of journalists that have fled the country, Tawhidi said, adding that 40 to 50 women were among them.

Taliban suicide attack

A January 20 Taliban suicide attack on a bus carrying employees of Moby Group, the country’s largest media company, raised fears about the safety of Afghan journalists and prompted many to leave the country. The bombing, which killed seven Moby employees and left at least 27 others wounded, was the deadliest attack on journalists in Afghanistan in the past 15 years, according to Nai. It occurred near the Russian embassy in Kabul.

A female journalist for a major TV network – who recently fled Afghanistan for Turkey and is trying to reach Europe – said that after the suicide attack her family told her “not to work anymore.” In an interview with VOA, she said she had no choice but to quit her job and leave the country.

According to the United Nations, about 200,000 Afghans fled to Europe last year. Insecurity and unemployment are cited as the two leading causes of migration.

UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural organization, marked World Press Freedom Day on Tuesday. Director-general Irina Bokova noted the importance of free and independent journalism "as a cornerstone of democracy."

Danish Karokhil, director of the Pajhwok News Agency, told VOA that several of his employees left Afghanistan in the past year and are now in Turkey, Germany, and other European countries. He said some journalists have fled to Europe to seek a better life.

Joining migrant flow

Journalists leaving Afghanistan are economic migrants, Afghan Minister for Information and Culture Abdul Bari Jahani said. He added that those leaving Afghanistan are “not only journalists but Afghans from all walks of life.”

Jahani pointed out the need for all Afghan government agencies to join in creating a secure environment for journalists to continue their work and to get rid of incentives for leaving.

Asked about the mass exodus of Afghan journalists, the Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ) said in an email that it does "not track numbers,” but it said it has received “an increasing number of requests for assistance from Afghan journalists.”

It said: "We don't want to see the country drained of its most valuable people. But I think as the country continues to founder and the level of violence increases, we can expect to see more people try to leave – and some of those people will be journalists.”