Female TV host's killing sends chill through Kabul

Staff at a controversial TV station in Kabul are taking extra security precautions in the wake of a killing last Wednesday of a former colleague who was shot dead in her Kabul home.

Shaima Rezayee had worked for Tolo TV before being dismissed two months ago amid complaints by conservatives over her on-air demeanor. In a departure from the public personae of many Afghan women, Ms. Rezayee adopted Western-style dress and chatted with male counterparts as a veejay for a music-video program named "Hop."

A council of religious scholars criticized Tolo and other broadcasters this spring for airing "programs opposed to Islam and national values."

Police are still investigating Rezayee's death, but they have told reporters that the young woman's brothers may have been involved. In Afghanistan and other conservative societies, women may face violence at the hands of male relatives over perceived affronts to family "honor."

It's unclear if Rezayee was killed because of her appearances on TV or over personal matters.

Shortly after Rezayee left Tolo, rumors circulated in Kabul that she had been killed by people upset by her TV stint.

To dispel the stories, the station encouraged her to sit for a radio interview, which she did, according to Saad Mohseni, head of Tolo TV.

Reached by phone, Mr. Mohseni denied that Rezayee was fired because of the conservative backlash, citing instead unprofessional work habits. He says he does not believe she was killed because of her ties to Tolo.

As a precaution, however, the station's most famous veejay, Shakeb Isaar, has not left the station's vicinity since Wednesday. Conversations earlier this month around Kabul revealed considerable hostility toward Mr. Isaar from Afghans who objected to his Indian haircuts and banter with female cohosts.

Reporters Without Borders has portrayed Rezayee's death as an attack on press freedom. "This horrible murder proves that press freedom still cannot be taken for granted in Afghanistan," the Paris-based organization said.

The director-general of UNESCO also condemned the murder Monday: "On no account can murder be considered as an instrument for cultural policy and it is outrageous to think that musical programming can justify the taking of life."

Mohseni says the station will not change course because of the murder. "You always reassess what you put out there and this is no different. [But] we do not allow individuals to dictate the terms to us, to act as terrorists," he says.

Last week, kidnappers of an Italian woman in Kabul demanded that Arman, Tolo's radio counterpart, end a popular talk show that offers love advice to young Afghans. There have been conflicting reports about the fate of Clementina Cantoni, who worked for CARE International.

The past month has seen a half-dozen high-profile killings of women in Afghanistan, including an execution for suspected adultery and the discovery of three corpses with notes warning women against working for Western aid agencies.

Ben Arnoldy has just returned from Afghanistan.

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