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220 former female judges in hiding in Afghanistan
Pic: UnSplash

28 Sep 2021 / global Print

220 former female judges in hiding in Afghanistan

Over 220 female Afghan judges have gone into hiding under Taliban rule, fearing for their lives as the men they convicted issue chilling death threats.

Six former female judges have spoken to the BBC from secret locations across Afghanistan. They told how they had convicted hundreds of men for violence against women, including rape, murder and torture.

When the Taliban took control and released thousands of convicted criminals, female judges began receiving threatening text messages and voice notes.

In the past 20 years, 270 women been appointed judges in Afghanistan, many with a high public profile. Many now wear the burka in order to move around.

One woman told the BBC that she had to immediately flee her home. Her neighbours told her the Taliban arrived shortly after she left. 

She realised that the Taliban group included a man who was charged with brutally murdering his wife and whose case she had heard.

The man was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

After the case was over, the criminal approached the judge and said: “When I get out of prison, I will do to you what I did to my wife.”

"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’," the judge told the BBC.

Other former judges from different provinces gave similar accounts of death threats.

Four named specific men whom they sentenced for murdering their wives.

In hiding

All have changed their phone number at least once, due to receiving death threats, and are now living in hiding, with neighbours and friends being questioned as to their whereabouts.

Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi told the BBC: "Female judges should live like any other family, without fear. No-one should threaten them. Our special military units are obliged to investigate such complaints and act if there is a violation."

He also repeated the Taliban's promise of a "general amnesty" for all former government workers across Afghanistan: "Our general amnesty is sincere. But if some wish to file a case to leave the country, our request is that they do not do this and they stay in their country."

During the mass release of prisoners, many criminals not associated with the Taliban were also released.

According to Human Rights Watch, an estimated 87% of women and girls in Afghanistan will experience abuse during their lifetime.

Torture

Female judges advocated for the idea that violence against women and girls is a punishable criminal offence. They heard cases of rape, torture, forced marriage, as well as cases where women were prohibited from owning property or going to work or school.

As some of the most prominent female public figures in their country, all six judges say they have faced harassment throughout their careers, long before the Taliban took full control.

"I wanted to serve my country, that's why I became a judge," one of them told the BBC, speaking from a safe house.

Rockets launched at court 

"In the family affairs court, I dealt mostly with cases involving women who wanted a divorce or separation from members of the Taliban.

"This posed a real threat to us. Once, the Taliban even launched rockets at the court.

"We also lost one of our best friends and judges. She disappeared on her way home from work. Only later was her body discovered."

No-one was ever charged for the disappeared judge's murder. At the time, local Taliban leaders denied any involvement.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland