Afghanistan: Women Judges Go into Hiding Amid Taliban Witch Hunt
By: Rishabh Negi
Among the many atrocities inflicted by the Taliban since conquering Afghanistan, one of the most under-reported is the campaign to exterminate the country’s first generation of women judges systematically.
For five years, Naima presided over cases of violence against women in Afghanistan. She heard harrowing accounts of unspeakable violence from battered women and their families. She even saw a man kill his wife before her own eyes during a court hearing. As a result, the women have not only lost their jobs but are now living in a state of perpetual fear that they or their loved ones could be tracked down and killed.
Naima (name changed), who has been a judge for over a decade, told Al-Jazeera in an interview that in the two months since the Taliban takeover, she regrets her ten years as a judge and the years she took to study law. “Sometimes you think to yourself: Why did I do that? Why didn’t I choose any other discipline,” she told the Qatar based media house from an undisclosed location in capital Kabul.
Like hundreds of other judges, Naima went into hiding shortly after former President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on August 15 and the Taliban took control. According to ground reports, these women were particularly targeted for rape and executions during the Taliban’s 11-day rampage through Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
Further, the Taliban has released thousands of prisoners from the nation’s jails. Among them are possibly men who, judges such as Naima, had personally sentenced and who might have ended up joining the Taliban looking for revenge. In fact, according to an ANI dispatch, Taliban leaders themselves have made several inferences in criminal proceedings vouching for them and having certain elements (whose punishment they consider unfair) join their ranks.
Last month, acting Minister of Defence, Mullah Muhammad Yaqoob, specifically addressed these concerns in an audio message, saying: “There are some bad and corrupt people who want to join us … To fulfil their own interest or to defame us and make us look bad.”
Naima told AZ that her suspicions were confirmed when she went to a bank last month and one of the guards, clearly a member of the Taliban, kept staring at her. Things only became tenser when one of the bank workers called out her name, and the guard tried to take her bank card, presumably to verify her name. Naima quickly pushed her way into the middle of the crowd of dozens of other women waiting for their turn, but just before she did that, she managed to catch a quick glimpse of the guard who had been trying hard to watch her. “It all came back to me in a flash, he had been in my courtroom only eight months prior for murdering his wife,” she said.
More than 200 female judges remain in Afghanistan, most of them under threat and hiding, reveals an estimate by the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ). Reuters reported that Taliban officials had recovered their personal information from court records, and some have had their bank accounts frozen.
“They are women who had the effrontery to sit in judgment on men,” said Susan Glazebrook, president of the IAWJ and a justice of the Supreme Court in New Zealand. “The women judges of Afghanistan are under threat for applying the law. They are under threat because they have made rulings in favour of women according to the law in family violence, custody and divorce cases.”
The plight of female judges and lawyers is one more example of the Taliban’s systematic unravelling of gains made by women over the past two decades. Female judges and lawyers have left the courts under Taliban pressure, abruptly erasing one of the significant achievements of the United States and allied nations since 2001.
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