KABUL, Afghanistan – A ground-breaking Afghan television host whose Western style drew praise from youthful fans and condemnation from Muslim clerics may have been slain with involvement from her own brothers, police said Friday.
Shaima Rezayee (search), 24, who tossed aside her burqa for Western dress and became a host on an MTV-style music show, knew her life was in danger, according to a radio interview she gave not long before she was shot in the head at her Kabul home Wednesday.
Her slaying highlights the struggle between urban young people and their conservative elders for the future of Afghanistan and its Islamic values. Television and radio stations like the one that featured Rezayee — often importing music and styles from other countries — have been leaders in probing the boundaries of acceptability.
Rezayee, like other young Afghan women, was denied schooling and forced to wear the burqa in public until the Taliban (search) regime was ousted by the U.S. invasion in late 2001. The Taliban also banned music — even humming on the street.
In the years since, several private television and radio stations have started broadcasting. Many operate under tight security, well aware of criticism from religious leaders who oppose women in Western dress, women working, or women singing publicly.
The station that featured Rezayee, Tolo TV (search), has in particular drawn fire. In March, the country's council of Islamic scholars criticized Tolo and other stations for transmitting "programs opposed to Islam and national values."
Tolo TV executives dismissed Rezayee that same month under pressure from conservative clerics.
Her hour-long show, "Hop," showed videos of Western singers such as Madonna, as well as Turkish and Iranian pop stars. The casual chat between male and female announcers on Rezayee's show also drew reproach. Marriages are still mostly arranged in Afghanistan and some regard as suspect even conversation between men and women who are not related.
Soon after she was dismissed, Rezayee said in a radio interview that she had heard rumors someone wanted to kill her, possibly because of the show.
Tolo TV was the brainchild of an Afghan who returned to his homeland from Australia after the fall of the Taliban and first opened Radio Arman (search), an extremely popular station.
Rezayee was the first journalist to be killed in Afghanistan since the end of the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 which ousted the Taliban regime, according to Reporters Without Borders.
"This horrible murder proves that press freedom still cannot be taken for granted in Afghanistan," the Paris-based group said, calling for a thorough investigation and concrete measures by President Hamid Karzai (search) to support free expression.
Jamil Khan, head of the criminal investigation department for Kabul police, declined to comment on a possible motive for the killing, but said police would question Rezayee's two brothers after mourning ceremonies conclude early next week.
"We suspect family members may be involved in the murder," he said. He didn't elaborate and relatives could not be immediately reached for comment.