More than 220 female judges in Afghanistan are in hiding, fearing for their lives after receiving threats from criminals they had convicted.
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Concerns over human rights —especially women’s rights— rose when the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021. Many feared that all the rights women had recuperated over the last decades, including the right to an education and the right to work, would be taken away by the militant group. While some left the country soon after the takeover, others were trapped in the country, without the economic resources to leave.
Prior to the Taliban takeover, there were approximately 270 female judges in Afghanistan. Many worked in cases involving femicides and domestic abuse, and a high portion of the criminals they convicted were related to the Taliban. Being in one of the most powerful positions in the country, they were public figures who advocated for women’s rights. However, after the Taliban released all prisoners regardless of their connection to the group, many went into hiding with their families, fearing retribution from those they had put in jail. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) interviewed six former female judges from their secret hiding locations, explaining their situation.
Masooma, one of the former judges, talked about a case where the husband had brutally murdered the wife. She sentenced the man to 20 years in prison, and he threatened her as he was taken away, saying, “When I get out of prison, I will do to you what I did to my wife.” Masooma states that “At the time I didn’t take him seriously. But since the Taliban took power, he has called me many times and said he has taken all of my information from the court offices. “He told me: ‘I will find you and have my revenge.'”
Sanaa, another judge, talked about the threats she has received and the Taliban’s attack on one of her family members. During her career, she had mainly worked in cases of violence against women and children, and the majority of the convicted were members of the Taliban or the militant group ISIS. She has received more than 20 phone calls threatening her from former inmates, and is now in hiding with her family. Once, one of her male relatives returned to their former home to pack some clothing, but was attacked by a group of Taliban members who had come to the house, asking for Sanaa’s whereabouts.
Some judges have fled to other countries, but others have not been able to, given the lack of funds and the legal documents that would allow them to leave the country.
Bilal Karimi, the secretary to the Taliban spokesman, has said that “Female judges should live like any other family without fear. No-one should threaten them.” Yet, many still live in hiding, changing locations every week, constantly receiving death threats. Although New Zealand and the United Kingdom have offered to help, there has been no additional information on the specifics. One of the judges expressed her fear that help would not arrive in time. She stated, “I love my country. But now I am a prisoner. We have no money. We cannot leave the house. “I can only pray for the day when we will be free again.”