Her appearance on television shocked many Afghans with her western-style of dressing and the barest of headscarves, as the only female presenter on the daily TV music show ‘Hop’. Conservative clerics hated her. Young women admired her. 24-year-old Shaima Rezayee stood out, and she had to pay a heavy price for this. First she was fired from her job. Now she has been killed.
Her MTV-like show was broadcast by the private television channel Tolo TV – a kind of must-see TV in Kabul that has government officials leaving work early to catch their favorite show. But also, a lightning rod for Afghan critics who see the station as a threat to the country’s Islamic values – in particular after Tolo’s launch in February 2005 of satellite broadcasting, which expands its reach outside of Kabul to rural, more conservative regions. “Tolo” means “dawn” in the Dari language of Afghanistan.
In March, the country’s Ulema Shura, a government council of religious scholars, criticized Tolo and other stations for transmitting “programs opposed to Islam and national values.” Shaima Rezayee was singled out and, some say because of the pressure, Tolo TV dismissed her. Soon after, she said in a radio interview that she had heard rumors someone wanted to kill her, possibly because of the show.
She was unemployed during the following two months.
Radio programme demanded stopped
The culture war in Afghanistan has turned dangerous in other ways, reports Chicago Tribune’s foreign correspondent Kim Barker. One of the demands by the kidnappers of an Italian woman, CARE International aid worker Clementina Cantoni – who was kidnapped two days before the murder of Shaima Rezayee – was that Radio Arman, the sister radio station to Tolo TV, stop broadcasting the programme “Young People and Their Problems”. The popular show airs love letters, often of doomed romance and often from teenagers. Conservatives have repeatedly criticized this program.
Another “Hop” TV-presenter, 22-year-old Shakeb Isaar, has been holed up at the Tolo television station since Shaima Rezayee was killed, fearing for his own life. He has received death threats on his mobile phone in the middle of the night and, according to Isaar, one man said he was just waiting for the right time to kill him.
Shakeb Isaar believes that Shaima Rezayee was killed because of being on “Hop”, and he is afraid to go home. He said that two weeks earlier he was dragged out of a car and beaten because of the programme. Shakeb Isaar now wants to leave Afghanistan and he is applying for asylum at various embassies.
On the 18th of May, Shaima Rezayee was murdered with a single shot to the head while she was in her house. Reports vary as to whether the Afghan police say or do not say that they suspect a link to her Tolo TV role. According to one source, Jamil Khan, head of the criminal investigation department for Kabul police, has declined to comment on a possible motive for the killing, but said police would question Rezayee’s two brothers after her funeral.
“We suspect family members may be involved in the murder,” he said, without elaborating on why the family may have wanted her dead. It is not clear when the results of the police investigation into Shaima Rezayee’s killing will be made public.
One of her brothers have stated to the press that she killed herself. Others talk of that Rezayee’s death may have been an “honor killing”.
Personal and familial honor is a central plank of Afghan society, and honor killings are not uncommon. Last month, a young woman in a remote north-eastern region of Afghanistan was reportedly stoned to death for having an affair outside marriage, reports Thomas Coghlan for the San Fransisco Chronicle.
Shaima Rezayee had stayed in Afghanistan during the five years that the Taliban controlled Kabul. She was forbidden from going to school as a teenager and, in the final years of Taliban rule, was forced to wear an all-encompassing burqa whenever she ventured outside.
“I know people have various opinions about me (being a VJ). But I don’t really care because my family and a lot of young people in this country are supporting what I’m doing,” said Rezayee.
A support which unfortunately didn’t save her from the bullet of those who’d rather see her dead.
Google news with links to more than 20 articles world-wide
PakTribune: ‘Mystery surrounds death of female Afghan TV star’
San Fransisco Chronicle: ‘Afghan TV host’s killing spotlights colliding cultures’
BBC News: ‘Ex-TV presenter killed in Kabul’
The Times in London: ‘The woman killed for pop music’
Chicago Tribune: ‘Brothers suspected in death of Afghan star’
Swedish news: ‘Tv-kvinna ihjälskjuten i Kabul’
Shaima Rezayee: murdered with a single shot to the head
“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.”
Director-general of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura, condemning the murder of Shaima Rezayee. Monday 23 May, 2005.
Logo of Tolo TV