KABUL: A prominent Afghan journalist and political adviser have been gunned down in Kabul, just days after she warned on social media that she feared for her life.
Mena Mangal was shot dead on Saturday morning in south-east Kabul. The attack, in broad daylight in a public place, prompted an outpouring of grief and anger from women’s rights activists, directed at authorities who had left her unprotected in the face of threats.
“This woman had already shared that her life was in danger; why did nothing happen? We need answers,” said Wazhma Frogh, an Afghan human rights lawyer and women’s rights campaigner. “Why is it so easy in this society [for men] to keep killing women they disagree with?”
Mangal had shared her fears in a defiant post on Facebook on 3 May. She said she was being sent threatening messages but declared that a strong woman wasn’t afraid of death, and that she loved her country.Advertisement
Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said unknown attackers had shot Mangal, and a special police unit was now investigating.
In a tearful video posted to Twitter, Mangal’s mother named a group of men as suspected killers, claiming they had previously kidnapped her daughter. The group were arrested for that abduction, she said, but later bribed their way out of detention.
Mangal made her name as a presenter on the Pashto-language channel Tolo TV, the country’s largest private broadcaster, and later worked for one of its key competitors, Shamshad TV.
Off-screen she was a passionate advocate of women’s rights to education and work, and had recently become a cultural adviser to the lower chamber of Afghanistan’s national parliament.
“Can’t stop my tears at the loss of this beautiful soul. She had a loud voice, and actively raised [that] voice for her people,” Frogh said.
Such a public killing was an “absolute dishonour” on the police, intelligence services and national security council, said the political analyst Mariam Wardak.
Over the past two decades of war in Afghanistan there have been many attacks on and assassinations of women in public positions, including policewomen and politicians, educators, students and journalists. Some have been targeted by insurgents who object to women having a role in public life, while others have been attacked by conservative relatives or members of their own community.
But there is a sense that the latest murder comes at a time when women are particularly vulnerable. Afghan women’s rights activists have warned that they have been almost entirely excluded from a US drive to broker peace with the Taliban, putting hard-won freedoms in jeopardy.
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, before the US-led campaign to topple them in 2001, they barred women from education and most work, forcing them to wear the burqa.
The fight for women’s rights was often presented as a major driver of western military intervention, but appears to have been largely sidelined as the US tries to wrap up its longest ever war. Although the Taliban has paid lip service to women’s rights at international meetings, in the parts of the country it controls there are harsh restrictions including a de-facto ban on secondary education for girls.
And just days before Mangal’s murder, the Taliban attacked the headquarters of an international aid group in Kabul, citing its work on women’s rights as one reason it was targeted.
The Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Counterpart International had carried out “harmful western activities” in Afghanistan, and was “promoting open inter-mixing between men and women”.