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Suspended female MP continues to face harassment, threats over outspoken criticism of warlords

(HRW/IFEX) - The following is a 20 May 2008 Human Rights Watch press release:

Afghanistan: Reinstate Malalai Joya in Parliament

Suspension of Female MP One Year Ago Is Setback for Democracy

(New York, May 21, 2008) - One year after her illegal suspension, the Afghan parliament should reinstate Malalai Joya to office, Human Rights Watch said today.

On May 21, 2007, the lower house of the Afghan parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, voted to suspend Malalai Joya, a female MP elected from Farah province. Malalai was accused of insulting the parliament and suspended until the end of her term in 2009.

Malalai's suspension occurred after she appeared in a television interview comparing the parliament to an animal stable. Malalai told Human Rights Watch that her remarks were edited out of context. She said that her statement divided parliamentarians into two groups - one of which was working to uphold democratic principles while the other was undermining them, thereby serving the Afghan population even less than animals in a stable. Malalai has since received numerous death threats by phone and "night letters" (posted threats) and now lives in hiding. She receives no security protection from parliament or the government.

"Afghanistan is requesting billions of dollars in assistance from donors next month and presenting itself as an emerging democracy," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "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?"

Malalai is an outspoken human rights activist who has publicly criticized warlords and drug barons in Afghanistan. At 29, she is the youngest member of the Wolesa Jirga. In 2003, 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 province in Afghanistan's parliamentary elections.

Since 2003, Malalai has received many death threats. She moves from house to house on a daily basis to avoid attacks. In 2007, she was verbally threatened and physically attacked during sessions of parliament. Since her suspension, she has continued to criticize warlords in the Afghan parliament despite the concerns for her safety. In April 2008, the Ministry of Interior refused to issue Malalai a passport and added her name to a list of persons banned from leaving Afghanistan. Though Malalai filed a complaint over her suspension, the courts have not taken action on her case.

Malalai recently told Human Rights Watch:

"After I was expelled from parliament, my life became even more dangerous and I received numerous death threats. Even a member of parliament said in front of all on the day when they voted against me, that he will eliminate me if I will not be silent."

"Instead of refusing her a passport and branding her a criminal, the Afghan government should be demanding that parliament reinstate Malalai and arresting the people threatening her life," said Adams. "This is a real test for President Hamid Karzai to show donors that women - even outspoken women - have a role to play in Afghan politics and in the rebuilding of Afghanistan."

To view the Human Rights Watch video interview with Malalai Joya, please visit: http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2008/05/21/afghan18897.htm

For more of Human Rights Watch's work on Afghanistan, please visit: http://www.hrw.org/doc?t=asia&c=afghan

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