Despite threats to her life and angering her fellow lawmakers, an Afghan woman is on a quest to rid parliament of warlords.
By JASON STRAZIUSO
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – A young female Afghan lawmaker who once called powerful tribal leaders “criminals” and complained publicly last week there are warlords among parliament members now sleeps in a different house every night after a fresh influx of death threats.
Malalai Joya, 28, says her mission is to improve women’s rights and expose criminal lawmakers in Afghanistan.
She says she will continue to speak out despite any danger.
Joya received worldwide attention after first making comments against former warlords at Afghanistan’s constitutional council in December 2003.
Last week, she was given her first extended chance to speak in parliament since being elected in October, she said.
“I thought it’s good to expose warlords, even in the national house,” the lawmaker said on Saturday.
“When I came into parliament they understood I was this person that I was two years before.”
After her speech May 7 calling some lawmakers warlords, former mujahedeen leader Alam Khan Ezadi stood up and asked the parliament leader why someone was allowed to insult the mujahedeen, “who sacrificed their lives to defeat the Soviets, to defeat terrorism.”
Then other former mujahedeen leaders many of whom are accused of committing human rights abuses against Afghan civilians started shouting and walked out.
A few lawmakers threw plastic water bottles at Joya, and a small scuffle broke out between her supporters and detractors. No one was hurt, but Joya said deep insults were shouted at her.
“They said, ‘We will rape her.’ They said that in parliament,” she said.
She said she overheard other mujahedeen lawmakers saying that the outcry would prevent anyone from speaking out against former warlords in parliament again.
Ezadi, the former mujahedeen leader from Mazar-e-Sharif, denied that anyone in parliament said Joya should be raped or that any sort of insult was shouted at her. But he said the walkout was warranted.
“We are worrying about the unity of the national house,” he said.
“The mujahedeen are not small people. We fought against the Soviets, against al-Qaida. The people of Afghanistan, they voted for us to be in parliament. We did not come here by ourselves,” he said.
He said that no mujahedeen have ever threatened Joya with death.
“We are Muslim. We never want to kill anyone, to have blood on our hands,” he said.
Joya said she can’t keep track of the number of death threats she’s received since her first speech to the constitutional council in 2003, but that several new ones were called in to her office last week.
In her speech, Joya distinguished between the “good” mujahedeen, those that helped Afghanistan win its freedom from the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, and the mujahedeen who committed crimes for power and money.
She hopes that some of the warlords will one day have to face trial, as a “healing” of the nation’s injuries.
In the meantime, she said, she will keep speaking out.
“They know very well I will never be silent. I will never be afraid,” she said. “We will all die someday.”
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