PAN, May 21, 2008

Malalai suspension a setback for democracy: HRW

She was the top vote-getter from Farah in Afghanistans parliamentary elections

S. Mudassir Ali Shah

An influential international rights watchdog Wednesday renewed its call for Afghan parliament to reinstate its outspoken member Malalai Joya, suspended a year ago.

Malalai Joya
Malalai Joya in a press conference in Kabul.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), hailing the youngest member of the Wolesi Jirga as a bold human rights activist, said the 29-year-old had publicly criticised warlords and drug barons in her country.

In 2003, HRW recalled, she gained international attention for speaking out publicly against warlords elected to the constitutional assembly and involved in drafting the Afghan constitution. Two years later, she was the top vote-getter from Farah in Afghanistans parliamentary elections.

On May 21, 2007, the Wolesi Jirga voted to suspend Joya for insulting the parliament. Her suspension came after she appeared in a television interview comparing the parliament to an animal stable.

In a statement, HRW said Malalai told the rights organisation her remarks were edited out of context and that her statement divided parliamentarians into two groups - one working to uphold democratic principles while the other was undermining them, thereby serving the Afghan population even less than animals in a stable.

Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: Afghanistan is requesting billions of dollars in assistance from donors next month and presenting itself as an emerging democracy. If Malalai Joya remains suspended for exercising her right to free expression and has to keep moving around because of threats for which the government does nothing, what does this say about the state of human rights and democracy? Adams asked.

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