The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Family of Indian journalist killed in Afghanistan petitions the International Criminal Court to try Taliban for war crimes

Colleagues mourn Reuters journalist Danish Siddiqui outside the press club in New Delhi on July 17 after the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer was killed in Afghanistan. (Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI — The family of Danish Siddiqui, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist for Reuters killed in Afghanistan last year as the Taliban took control of the country, petitioned the International Criminal Court on Tuesday to investigate his killing and bring to trial top Taliban leadership for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Siddiqui, a 38-year-old Indian national, was killed on July 16, when he accompanied an Afghan special forces unit to Spin Boldak, southeast of Kandahar city.

The family’s plea comes as several journalists, including two Americans, reporting on the Russian invasion of Ukraine have been killed in recent weeks, underscoring the dangers journalists face in covering conflicts and the complexities of seeking accountability for their deaths.

Reuters photojournalist Danish Siddiqui, killed Friday in Afghanistan, brought empathy and artistry to the images he produced

More than 500 journalists have been killed in the past decade, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Of these deaths, 31 were recorded in Afghanistan. Officials of the previous, civilian government in Afghanistan told The Washington Post in 2020 that the Taliban was responsible for most of the targeted killings of journalists.

“Danish, our loving son, was murdered by [the] Taliban for simply carrying out his journalistic duties. He was subjected to barbaric levels of torture and mutilation while in their custody,” said Akhtar Siddiqui, his father. “While our son will not come back, our petition will ease our grief in the hope that someday, justice will be done.”

Days before his death, Siddiqui described on Twitter his vehicle coming under attack. Later, he posted a photograph of himself taking a break after “15 hours of back to back missions.”

The family’s petition cites reports by the Washington Examiner and the Indian press that Siddiqui was alive when captured by the Taliban and then executed. It mentions reporting by the New York Times that his body was mutilated in the Taliban’s custody.

A Reuters report published in August said Siddiqui was killed after being left behind as the Afghan forces he was embedded with retreated. The Taliban denied that his body was mutilated in its custody , according to the Reuters report.

In a statement to The Post, Reuters said that it stands by its reporting on the circumstances of Siddiqui’s death and that it was “unable to independently determine if the Taliban deliberately killed Siddiqui or desecrated his body.”

Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said, “Ascertaining clear responsibility for the death of a journalist on assignment in war can be exceptionally difficult, including determining if the killing was intentional murder, or the journalist was only caught up accidentally in the violence of war.”

In 2019, in a rare instance, a U.S. court held the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad liable for the death of American journalist Marie Colvin and ordered it to pay damages.

Siddiqui, the father of two young children, was a celebrated photojournalist known for his images documenting human suffering with dignity.

He was part of the Reuters team of photographers that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018. The judges commended their “shocking photographs” that brought to light the violence facing Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar, according to the citation.

Siddiqui also extensively chronicled contemporary India, capturing images of mass cremations during the coronavirus pandemic and the unfolding communal violence in Delhi in 2020 that left dozens dead.

The family’s plea is likely to draw attention to the International Criminal Court’s stalled investigation into Afghanistan. Known as the court of last resort, the ICC investigates what are known as atrocity crimes, including crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.

In March 2020, the ICC authorized an investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan but soon transferred it to the Afghan government under then-President Ashraf Ghani.

Last year, after the collapse of the government and the Taliban takeover, the prosecutor asked the court to resume the investigation, citing the “the gravity, scale and continuing nature of alleged crimes by the Taliban and the Islamic State.” It deprioritized Afghan national forces and U.S. armed forces from the scope of the investigation.

Experts tracking the Afghanistan case have been frustrated by the lack of progress.

“It took almost 12 years for the ICC to make a request for investigation, but we still don’t have an investigation,” said Mahir Hazim, an Afghan legal practitioner at Arizona State University.

“Part of the frustration comes from the fact that during this time a lot of atrocities happened in Afghanistan and continue to happen,” he said.

Hazim said that if the court resumes its investigation, Siddiqui’s death is likely to be included.

For Siddiqui’s family, the past several months have been tough. His father said the family felt “emotionally and morally obliged” to approach the ICC.

“We hope the world will also take notice of the extreme challenges and threats journalists face in reporting from conflict zones,” he said.