Malalai Maiwand was not the first of her family to be targeted. Five years ago, her mother, also an activist, was killed by unknown gunmen.
Kabul, Afghanistan CNN  — 

The Afghan government has described the killing of female journalist Malalai Maiwand by gunmen on Thursday as “utterly despicable.”

Sediqi Sediqi, a spokesperson for President Ashraf Ghani condemned the murder, calling it “cowardly and heinous.”

“The Afghan government strongly condemns it and conveys message of condolence and sympathy to her family and friends,” Sediqi said in a tweet. “The current senseless violence against our people must end.”

At 7 a.m. local time, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Maiwand and her driver in an attack on their vehicle in Jalalabad, the capital of the eastern province of Nangarhar, a statement from the provincial media office said. She was a reporter at Enikas Radio and TV in Nangarhar and this is an incident that underscores an increasing trend of violence against journalists in the country.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Reuters cited Afghan interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian as saying that – over the past 15 years – the Taliban has been behind the majority of attacks on journalists.

CNN has reached out to the Taliban for comment. Meanwhile Reuters has cited Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid as saying he denied the group’s involvement in the incident.

“She was on the way to office when the incident happened,” Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor, told Reuters.

Enikas has been targeted before, with its owner, Engineer Zalmay, kidnapped for ransom in 2018.

Maiwand is also not the first of her family to be targeted. Five years ago, her mother, also an activist, was killed by unknown gunmen.

“With the killing of Malalai, the working field for female journalists is getting more smaller and the journalists may not dare to continue their jobs the way they were doing before,” Nai, an organization supporting media in Afghanistan, said in a statement.

Last month, Elyas Dayee, a Radio Azadi journalist, was killed in a bomb blast in the southern Helmand province, and Yama Siawash, a former TOLOnews presenter, was killed in a similar blast in Kabul.

The Afghan government, German embassy, EU delegation and British ambassador condemned growing attacks on journalists and activists.

International donors and governments have also expressed apprehension about a possible reversal of progress on women’s rights over the last two decades if the Taliban return to any sort of power with the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country next year.

The Taliban’s hardline rule was marked by oppressive laws for women up until the group was toppled following a 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.