By Kim Sengupta
The most outspoken female MP in Afghanistan has been expelled from parliament after saying proceedings had descended to a level "worse than a zoo". The views of Malalai Joya, in a television interview, outraged fellow parliamentarians, who immediately voted to suspend her from the house for the rest of her five-year term. Some even demanded that she should be brought before a court for defamation and stripped of the right to stand again as a candidate.
This was not the first time that 28-year-old Ms Joya, a fervent advocate of women's rights, has angered male MPs with her criticisms. Some have thrown water bottles at her while she spoke in debates and others have threatened her with rape. She has also survived assassination attempts and has to regularly change her address after receiving death threats from Islamist groups.
Malalai Joya, the youngest member of the Afghan Parliament (Photo: Darren England)
Ms Joya's suspension yesterday came after a tape of her interview with Tolo TV, an independent station which has faced official wrath over some of its investigative reports, was shown to MPs. Describing what was happening in parliament, she had said: "A stable or a zoo is better, at least there you have a donkey that carries a load and a cow that provides milk. This parliament is worse than a stable or a zoo."
A letter sent by the speaker of the upper house to the speaker of the lower house, Yunus Qanooni, accused Ms Joya of humiliating the institution of parliament. The letter said: "If the lower house does not take a decision about her, we will take a decision." Mr Qanooni said that Ms Joya should be brought before a court. When asked on what grounds, he responded: "The court will explain this."
Several of Afghanistan's MPs are former warlords. One of the last clashes Ms Joya had with them was earlier this year when she opposed legislation granting an amnesty against charges of war crimes during Afghanistan's last 25 years of conflict.
The National Reconciliation Bill declared that the "defenders" of the jihad "must be treated with respect and be defended against any kind of offence". Ms Joya said the bill was "unjust and went against the will of the people. Those guilty must be tried. In fact, they have already been tried in the minds and hearts of the people and they should be tried officially."
In response, she was called "a traitor who should be severely punished". During a street rally thousands of supporters of the warlords turned MPs chanted "death to Malalai Joya".
Most of Ms Joya's campaigning has been about women's rights, which have been severely eroded after initial gains made with the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Women activists, including the highest-ranking official dealing with female empowerment, Safia Amajan, have been murdered.
Ms Joya said: "Talking about women's rights in Afghanistan is a joke. There really have not been any fundamental changes, the Taliban were driven off by the Americans and the British but then they were allowed to be replaced by warlords who also simply cannot see women as equals."
She added: "Those of us who speak up are targets. My friends and colleagues have been assassinated. They have tried to kill me four times, the last attack was in Kabul which is the capital of this country which is supposed to be secure and democratic. And then if you try to speak up in parliament their first reaction is to try to gag you."