Controversy Surrounds Death of Afghan TV Star
Monday, June 13, 2005 12:00 PM

On May 18, former TV star Shaima Rezayee was found dead in her home, in the Kabul neighborhood of Char Qala, with a gunshot wound to her right temple.  Although police have not ruled out the possibility of suicide, Jamil Khan, head of the criminal investigation suspects that “family members may be involved” with Rezayee’s death. According to unconfirmed reports from Kabul, two of Rezayee’s brothers were home at the time of the killing and are within police custody.

Until March of this year, Rezayee worked as a VJ on the hip Afghan show “Hop” which aired music videos and ranked #1 as Tolo TV’s most popular show. Rezayee was one of the first women to remove the burqa after the Taliban were removed from power, and chose to dress in westernized clothing in public. As the sole female presenter on the show, Rezayee drew criticism from mullah conservatives for appearing on television and speaking with men other than those in her family.

In March, the Ulema Council, a government panel of religious scholars, accused Tolo TV of “broadcasting music, naked dance and foreign films, which are against Islam and other national values of Afghanistan.” The Information Ministry asked the station to enact changes, addressing the sexually explicit videos and the “casual” chat between male and female costars. That month, as Tolo TV prepared to go national on satellite broadcasting, the TV executives dropped Rezayee from the show “Hop.”

Tolo TV Director Saad Mosheni has told sources that Rezayee decided to leave the station on her own because she only wanted to work part-time. Later Mosheni stated that Rezayee was dismissed “for not observing the rules and regulations of the company. She did not come to work on time.” After her dismissal from the TV show, viewers worried that Rezayee had been kidnapped, assassinated, or killed by her family in order to save their honor. A few days later, Rezayee spoke with the press by telephone assuring her audience that she was alive but had received “threatening phone calls and [I] am worried for my safety.”

Although sources disagree over the reason for Rezayee’s dismissal, some believe that the denunciation of the show by conservative mullahs and members of the Afghanistan Supreme Court for being “un-Islamic” was at least partly responsible.

Nadar Nadery, a member of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission states that Rezayee came to their office complaining of threatening calls from unknown people and that she had been fired for no reason. Rezayee showed bruises on the side of her face, and alleged that her brother had beaten her. Rezayee’s younger brother Jawad, who still remains in police custody, maintains that his sister became depressed after leaving Tolo TV and committed suicide.

However, Rezayee’s co-star on “Hop,” Shakeb Isaar, believes that Rezayee was murdered because of her connection to the show. Two weeks earlier Issar was dragged from his car and beaten because of the TV program. Having also received numerous death threats at night on his cell phone, Isaar is fearful to remain in Afghanistan and is applying for Asylum at a number of embassies.

Rezayee is the first journalist killed in Afghanistan since the end of the war in 2001.

Compiled from: Catherine Philp, “The woman killed for pop music,” TimesOnline, 20 May 2005; CNN, “Female Afghan TV Host shot dead,” 21 May 2005; Golnaz Esfandiari,, “Former Female TV Presenter Shot Dead in Kabul,” 19 May 2005;, “Young TV music show presenter killed in Kabul,” 19 May 2005;, “Mystery surrounds death of female Afghan TV star,” 1 June 2005