Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Afghan authorities to protect Vida Saghari, a journalist and women’s rights activist who is being threatened by a cleric in the western city of Herat because she criticized him for holding a religious gathering in violation of the coronavirus lockdown.
Saghari has previously posted critical comments on Facebook alongside a photo of the gathering of around 100 Muslims that he organized in Herat on the first day or Ramadan, 1 May, ignoring a ban on religious gatherings by claiming that “the coronavirus is for infidels, not for Muslims.”
The outcry about the gathering is all the greater because Herat is the epicentre of the COVID-19 epidemic in Afghanistan. It was to the epidemic’s many victims that Saghari alluded when she wrote, “Ask the gravediggers to dig a tomb for Mullah Mujib Alrahman Ansari, this ignorant plague lord who wants people to die.” She added that “people have a normal brain” and the leaders who guide them must be “responsible.
Within hours, Ansari responded with a Facebook post attacking Saghari: “Who holds the leash on Vida Saghari, this woman who poses as a civil society activist in Kabul? Sorry, I’m going to be insulting about her. She is impolite and unveiled, ugly words issue from her mouth and witnesses say she prostitutes herself (…) She has written several times about me and Muslims in the past few days, saying we must not pray together because our gatherings will spread the coronavirus. Vida Saghari is more dangerous than the virus.
“The post marked the start of a violent cyber-harassment campaign against Saghari, who has been the target of hate speech, insults and death threats by Ansari’s supporters on social media ever since,” RSF said.
“In response to the behaviour of the fundamentalists and the threats to press freedom, which the constitution guarantees, the silence of the Afghan authorities is unacceptable,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Afghanistan/Iran desk. “Whether or not you appreciate Vida Saghari’s criticism, the harassment and attacks to which she has been subjected are completely intolerable and everything must be done to guarantee her protection.”
The Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ), which is also calling for protection for Saghari, points that more that 20% of women journalists have lost their jobs since the start of the lockdown.
Afghanistan is ranked 122nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.