Afghan street artists haunt warlords with graffiti campaign

This handout from the Afghan social activist group ArtLords taken on March 8, 2018 shows artists painting a mural of Hamida Barmaki, who, along with her husband and children, was killed in a 2011 suicide attack on a supermarket, on a blast wall near the home of warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose followers had carried out the attack, in Kabul. Over the past four years the social activist group ArtLords has turned Kabul’s grey maze of concrete barricades — shaped like a wide-based inverted ‘T’ to provide protection from bomb blasts — into a canvas to tackle issues such as rampant corruption and abuse of power. The group’s artists are calling out Afghanistan’s most powerful by depicting people killed by warlords in giant murals in public places. — -----EDITORS NOTE --- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE — MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO / ArtLords” — NO MARKETING — NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS — DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS — NO ARCHIVES — MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION
Updated 21 March 2018
0

Afghan street artists haunt warlords with graffiti campaign

KABUL: For days Hamida Barmaki’s smiling face stared out over traffic in Kabul, painted in a towering mural near the home of the warlord blamed for her death before it was mysteriously covered over in white.
The short-lived image on a concrete blast wall marked the beginning of a provocative campaign by social activist group ArtLords, whose artists are calling out Afghanistan’s most powerful by depicting people killed by warlords in giant murals in public places.
They have been threatened on social media, branded infidels, and told by gunmen and mullahs to stop painting — but are unrepentant.
“This was a warning shot to everyone that we will not let you sleep at night, we will come after you, we will paint in front of your homes,” ArtLords co-founder and president Omaid Sharifi said at his studio in the Afghan capital.
Rather than seek justice for the countless victims — something that is not realistic given the huge number of them and the country’s weak judicial system — the group hopes to pressure warlords to acknowledge their past actions and apologize, Sharifi, 31, said.
Barmaki’s portrait was near the home of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the most notorious warlords in Afghanistan’s history.
His group carried out the 2011 suicide attack on a Kabul supermarket that killed Barmaki — a prominent law professor and human rights activist — as well as her husband and their four children.
Hekmatyar, whose spokesman declined to comment on the mural, is one of several infamous warlords that Kabul has sought to reintegrate into the mainstream political system in the post-Taliban era.
A two-time prime minister, he is accused of killing thousands of people during Afghanistan’s bloody 1992-1996 civil war.
Other such figures include General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful ethnic Uzbek linked to multiple human rights abuses in Afghanistan who is now the country’s first vice president, and Atta Mohammad Noor, the former governor of Balkh province who is seen as a potential presidential contender but has been accused of having links to people involved in kidnapping and other crimes.
The murals — which are typically several meters high and wide — will put faces to the victims, Sharifi says, and send a message to warlords that “we have not forgotten ... what they did in this country.”
Over the past four years ArtLords has turned Kabul’s grey maze of concrete barricades — shaped like a wide-based inverted ‘T’ to provide protection from bomb blasts — into a canvas to tackle issues such as rampant corruption and abuse of power.
With permission from local authorities, businesses and institutions, the group’s artists have painted more than 400 murals on blast walls and other prominent places in around half of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
Sharifi said the latest campaign would also target violent extremism of the Taliban and other militant groups now terrorizing the country.
“There will be murals that say ‘you’re not going to heaven’,” Sharifi said.
It is risky work for the group’s 45 artists, who are paid for their efforts.
Sharifi said he rarely goes out and is careful to use different routes when he does.
“The threat is very real. At any moment anything can happen, a bomb can go off,” Sharifi said.
“Despite all these challenges... we have to take responsibility. Somebody has to do it.”
The mural of Barmaki has changed the “narrative of street art in Afghanistan” and people were now recognizing art as a “powerful tool” for social change, he said.
It has also galvanized other socially conscious artists around the country to use street art to send “very harsh messages to these people.”
While ArtLords receives widespread support from Afghans and the international community for its work, reaction on social media to the Barmaki mural has been mixed.
Some have applauded the group’s “courage and guts” while others have accused them of bias and exacerbating discord in the country.
“Use your art to promote unity and serve Afghanistan, do not use it to spread division,” Facebook user Yaser Baburi wrote.
Sharifi admits the new campaign will upset people “because we will remind them of all these crimes.”
“But I think this is the way to continue this discussion and force these people to come out and apologize for what they’ve done.”
With the help of the public, ArtLords is compiling a list of warlords and people allegedly killed by them, who will be the faces of the next murals.
“We will have faces of these victims in front of their (warlords’) houses or the streets they are passing by,” Sharifi said, without disclosing who will be targeted.
“There are a lot of names that come to mind.”


El Salvador court frees woman jailed for delivering stillborn

Evelyn Hernandez (C) is surrounded by activists after being released from the women's Readaptation Center, in Ilopango, El Salvador, on February 9, 2019, where she was serving a 30-year-sentence for aggravated homicide after her baby died at birth. (AFP)
Updated 16 February 2019
0

El Salvador court frees woman jailed for delivering stillborn

  • Even women who abort due to birth defects or health complications risk jail sentences of up to 40 years in El Salvador

SAN SALVADOR: A Salvadoran court on Friday freed Evelyn Hernandez, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison after she gave birth to a stillborn baby at home.
After serving 33 months for aggravated homicide, 20-year-old Hernandez smiled as she was reunited with her parents and a brother in the capital San Salvador.
The court in Cojutepeque, east of the capital, ruled that she will be retried but while living at home. A hearing has been set for April 4, with a new judge, her lawyer Angelica Rivas said.
El Salvador has an extremely strict abortion ban. Hernandez gave birth in the makeshift bathroom of her home in the central Cuscatlan region. She was 18 years old and eight months pregnant.
She said her son was stillborn but was convicted of murdering him, abortion rights group ACDATEE said.
ACDATEE cited a pathologist’s report which it said indicated the baby had choked to death while still in the womb.
Prosecutors argued Hernandez was culpable for not having sought prenatal care, ACDATEE said.
The group said Hernandez had not known she was pregnant and gave birth on the toilet after feeling abdominal pains. She got pregnant as the result of a rape, which she did not report out of fear because her family had been threatened.
Even women who abort due to birth defects or health complications risk jail sentences of up to 40 years in El Salvador. Campaigners say some have been jailed after suffering miscarriages.
The country’s abortion law made international headlines in 2013 when a sick woman was forbidden from aborting a fetus which developed without a brain.
Under a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Salvadoran state eventually authorized her to undergo a cesarean section. The baby died shortly after the procedure.