Over 200 female Afghan judges trapped in hiding are at risk of being ‘killed by Taliban’

Women assemble to call for their rights under Taliban rule at a protest in the capital of Kabul in early September  (AP)
Women assemble to call for their rights under Taliban rule at a protest in the capital of Kabul in early September (AP)

More than 200 women judges are trapped in hiding in Afghanistan and are at risk of being killed by the Taliban, campaigners have warned.

It comes after the Taliban freed thousands of prisoners, including terrorists and senior al Qaeda operatives.

Campaigners told The Independent that the judges responsible for sending many of the newly released criminals to jail are terrified for their safety now the inmates are free.

One judge, currently in hiding in Afghanistan, said she is petrified the Taliban or the recently freed prisoners will kill her if they find her.

The 38-year-old, who previously lived in Nangarhar province in the east of the country has had to flee. She said the Taliban came to her road a few days ago to ask the people she is staying with if any female judges were hiding there.

“I don’t know how they heard about me,” she told The Independent. “If the Taliban find me, they may kill me. I am feeling very scared. The Taliban are everywhere. Sometimes they come to the neighbours and ask about judges or other women government officials such as members of the army or women journalists.”

She said for the last week she has been harassed by a young member of the Taliban whom she prosecuted around eight months ago. She claimed he killed his young wife.

The judge added: “He had tortured her in a very bad way. Her face was black. She was dead. I was so afraid. When I saw the picture, I talked to the criminal and said: ‘Why did you do this to your own wife?’

“At the end of the trial, he said, what I did to my wife, I can do to you, when I get out of prison. I didn’t take it seriously but now the Taliban has come to power and released the prisoners, this man has called me via the phone. He has been calling me for one week and has called me many times.”

She said he told her he has tracked down her personal details through the court she used to work in. She left behind private documents when recently forced to flee from her local province in the middle of the night which she fears he may have found.

“We were living in the court compound,” she added. “I think he found my documents. He says: ‘I am very powerful now. I can find you easily anywhere you are’.”

She said she spends the majority of her time inside the house, but when she does occasionally venture out, Taliban members point their guns at her on the street and tell her to go home.

The woman worked as a judge to eliminate violence against women and is well-known in her province due to being the only female judge there.

She said: “I try to sleep but most of the time I can’t sleep because I think about the situation with the judges. My children are crying. They are terrified.

“There are more than 200 female judges. We have one WhatsApp group - all of the female judges are a member of that group. They are in the same situation as me. They have no money because the banks are closed.”

She has urged the international community to help female Afghan judges as she warned they are in grave danger. “If you want to help us, please help us now. Tomorrow it might be too late. When the Taliban arrest us and kill us, it is too late.

“We don’t care about our jobs we have lost. We don’t care about our homes we have lost. We just care about our lives and our children’s lives. Now, anything is possible. The Taliban can come to the door and do anything to me. They can torture me to get information. They can torture my children. There is no one to stop them,” she said.

The Taliban swept to power last month as US and other Western troops withdrew. The last time the hardline Islamist group ruled the country women were barred from working, girls were blocked from going to school, and women had to be chaperoned by a male relative if they wanted to leave the house.

Afghanistan has roughly 250 female judges in total but a small number managed to escape in recent weeks.

Marzia Babakarkhail, who previously worked as a family court judge in Afghanistan but now lives in London, said there are currently 220 female judges trapped in Afghanistan after UK judges and lawyers helped some to flee.

The 55-year-old, who is campaigning for the female judges to be rescued from Afghanistan, told The Independent the children of the female judges are not going to school due to being scared for their safety.

“The female judges have received death threats from the Taliban,” she said. “The Taliban are searching for female judges. All the judges are scared. One of them told me this week they came to her house and beat her brother badly because of her work.”

“The Taliban is very cruel to all female activists but especially female judges. The Taliban does not accept women as human beings. The Taliban has a wrong interpretation of Islam.”

“The information I have from the judges, is now they have two enemies: the Taliban and criminals. Some of them are terrorists and are also involved in cocaine trafficking, they have also released Taliban warlords.”

Ms Babakarkhail, who moved to the UK in 2008, accused the Taliban of trying to kill her in Afghanistan in 1997 and again in Pakistan in 2007.

In the first instance, she said she was forced to hide in an alleyway for five hours after nine Taliban members came to her house.

“They broke the door without permission,” she said. “They wanted to shoot me. They were searching the house and asked my mother and two sisters a lot of questions about me.”

The campaigner, who also set up a foundation to educate girls in Pakistan, accused the Taliban of running her over with a car in the second incident in Pakistan - adding that she was left with back and leg injuries.

Robert Buckland, the UK’s Justice Minister, recently said the government had managed to evacuate nine female judges.

”A lot of these judges were responsible for administering the rule of law and quite rightly they are fearful about the consequences that could now face them with the rise of the Taliban,” said Mr Buckland.

Heather Barr, associate director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, told The Independent: “This is a nightmare come true for these women due to the fact they opened up the prisons indiscriminately. In terms of protection, the only place they have to look is to the Taliban themselves.

“I don’t think they have any reason or confidence that the Taliban will do anything to protect them given that the Taliban don’t think the female judges should have ever been allowed in that position.”

Two female Supreme Court justices were shot dead by unidentified gunmen back in January, but at the time a Taliban spokesman said they were not linked to the attack.

Female Afghan journalists and healthcare workers were killed in attacks after peace talks started between the Taliban and the American-backed Afghan government last year. While the Taliban denied perpetrating these attacks, former government ministers held them responsible.

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