BBC News, August 9, 2004

Afghan rights advocate expects death

An Afghan social worker who publicly demanded that former warlords be taken to court has told the BBC she expects to be killed.

Malalai Joya received a number of death threats after interrupting the loya jirga (grand council) seven months ago with her criticism of the mujahideen.

However she has continued to press her case against the former rulers of Afghanistan - earlier this month she, together with a delegation of 50 tribal elders, persuaded President Hamid Karzai to dismiss a provincial governor who was a former Taleban commander.

"I know that if not today, then probably tomorrow, I will be physically annihilated," Joya told BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

"But the voice of protest will continue, because it is the voice of the people of my country."

Making a speech such as she did at the loya jirga was highly risky as a number of those she was attacking were in the audience.

Human rights group Amnesty, who monitored the meeting, said that the time that "some present were heard to say that they would kill the woman, while others intervened to protect her."

But Ms Joya was unrepentant about her actions.

"It was my people's plight which made me come to this point," she said.

"I have met a lot of different people through my work with NGOs and I have very painful memories of the hardship that is inflicted upon them by different mujahideen parties, by those who pretend to be democratic but have only returned to the political scene to deceive our people again."

She said she had known at the time that speaking could cost her life, and she was aware of the risks.

Meena Nanji, an American film-maker making a documentary about women of Afghanistan, said that Ms Joya had been "remarkably brave" because some of those at the loya jirga had guns and were sitting just feet in front of her.

But Ms Joya said that she had felt very strongly that she had to attend, especially because the meeting attracted global media attention.

"If I didn't use this forum, I would never be able to tell the world about the suffering of my people," she stated.

During the loya jirga, Ms Joya received protection from the UN.

But she said that since then ordinary people have been offering to watch out for her, and that when her house was recently attacked her neighbours forced the intruders away by throwing stones.

"The people in power won't tolerate hearing the truth, they can't stand it," she said.

"I have received many death threats. After I spoke at the loya jirga, they even attacked my house."

"Even now, seven months later, my family aren't safe."

She added that she was used to intimidation, after being threatened "again and again" by the Taleban when she started her work in the country in 1998 after returning from Pakistan and Iran where her family had emigrated.

During that time she established an orphanage and health clinic, and was soon a vocal opponent of the Taleban.

However she was spurred into action when she first saw the capital, Kabul, and how badly it had been destroyed.

"I saw the misery of the people," she recalled.

"When those people put their trust in me and elected me as their representative, I decided to bring their suffering to the world's attention - so that the world would know that even thought the men and women of Afghanistan have had to live in ignorance and poverty for many years, they don't trust the mujahideen."

And she called on the government to show "decisiveness" once the forthcoming elections are completed.

"Any president must help the people, who have so much optimism," she argued.

"With the support of the international forces, they must tackle the warlords with great determination."

"These people are snakes in the sleeves of the government. Only if the government tackles them head-on will we see a brighter future."

"If they don't there will be more bitter and dark days ahead."

[RAWA Homepage] [More reports from Afghanistan] [RAWA Photo Gallery]