Hunted by the men they jailed, Afghanistan’s women judges seek escape

Hunted by the men they jailed, Afghanistan’s women judges seek escape
Afghan women’s rights defenders and civil activists protest to call on the Taliban for the preservation of their achievements and education, in front of the presidential palace in Kabul, on Friday. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 September 2021

Hunted by the men they jailed, Afghanistan’s women judges seek escape

Hunted by the men they jailed, Afghanistan’s women judges seek escape
  • "Four or five Taliban members came and asked people in my house: 'Where is this woman judge?' These were people who I had put in jail," an Afghan woman judge told Reuters
  • Two women Supreme Court justices were shot dead by unidentified gunmen in January, as a Taliban spokesman at the time denied involvement

THE HAGUE: Safe in Europe after escaping from Kabul, an Afghan woman judge describes how she was hunted by men she had once jailed, now freed by the Taliban fighters who took over the country.
“Four or five Taliban members came and asked people in my house: ‘Where is this woman judge?’ These were people who I had put in jail,” she told Reuters in an interview from an undisclosed location, asking not to be identified.
Afghanistan has around 250 women judges. A few were able to flee in recent weeks, but most were left behind and are still trying to get out, said international colleagues and activists who have formed networks working around the clock to help them escape.
The militants, who swept into power last month as the United States withdrew its troops, banned women from most work when they last ruled the country 20 years ago.
At a news conference shortly after they seized Kabul on Aug. 15, a Taliban spokesman said women’s rights would be protected in accordance with Islamic law. They would also be allowed to work across important sectors of society, he said.
Western powers have said they are prepared to engage with the Taliban but want to see action — not just promises — to safeguard human rights.
Women who work in justice have been high profile targets before. Two women Supreme Court justices were shot dead by unidentified gunmen in January. A Taliban spokesman said at the time that the group was not involved.
Now, the Taliban have released prisoners across the country, which “really put the lives of women judges in danger,” the Afghan judge said.
She has been in touch with colleagues back home: “Their messages are of fear and complete terror. They tell me if they do not get rescued their lives are in direct danger.”
She escaped with the help of a collective of human rights volunteers and foreign colleagues at the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ).
In addition to the judges, there are around a thousand other women human rights defenders who could also be in the Taliban’s cross hairs, said Horia Mosadiq, an Afghan human rights activist.
Freed prisoners “are calling with death threats to women judges, women prosecutors and women police officers, saying ‘we will come after you’,” she said.
British Justice Minister Robert Buckland said last week London had evacuated nine women judges and was working to provide safe passage for more of the “very vulnerable people.”
“A lot of these judges were responsible for administering the rule of law and quite rightly they are fearful about the consequences that could now face them with the rise of the Taliban,” he said.
But several human rights and legal activists involved in the effort to rescue women judges and rights defenders said Western countries did not make their evacuation enough of a priority in the chaos after Kabul fell.
“Governments had zero interest in evacuating people that were not their own nationals,” said Sarah Kay, a Belfast-based human rights lawyer and member of the Atlas Women network of international lawyers.
She is working with an online group of volunteer veterans known as the “digital Dunkirk,” named for the World War Two evacuation of British troops from Nazi-occupied France. It has helped hundreds of people escape with the help of chat groups and personal contacts.
At the IAWJ, a team of six foreign judges has also been coordinating information, lobbying governments and arranging evacuations.
“The responsibility that we bear is almost unbearable at the moment because we are one of the few people taking responsibility for this group,” one of the effort’s leaders, Patricia Whalen, an American judge who helped train Afghan female judges in a 10-year program, told Reuters.
“I am furious about that. None of us should be in this position.”


Texas terrorist demanded release of Al-Qaeda figure months after similar call by Anjem Choudary

a sign is displayed outside of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Dallas. (AFP)
a sign is displayed outside of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Dallas. (AFP)
Updated 12 sec ago

Texas terrorist demanded release of Al-Qaeda figure months after similar call by Anjem Choudary

a sign is displayed outside of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Dallas. (AFP)
  • Malik Faisal Akram was shot by police on Saturday after holding four people hostage at a Texas synagogue
  • He called for release of Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year sentence for her part in a 2008 New York terror plot

LONDON: Extremist British cleric Anjem Choudary recently urged his supporters to help free notorious Islamist Aafia Siddiqui “physically or by ransom” — the same person a British terrorist demanded be released while he occupied a synagogue in Texas on Saturday.

Choudary, who was profiled by Arab News in its “Preachers of Hate” series, called in September last year for the release of Siddiqui, known as “Lady Al-Qaeda.” It came three months after his release from a British prison where he had served time for supporting the terrorist group Daesh.

“The obligation upon us is to either free her physically or to ransom her or to exchange her,” Choudary wrote on social media platform Telegram. “However, until such time as we can fulfill one of these obligations the minimum that we can do is to use all that we have to raise awareness about her case, to keep her name in the hearts and in the minds of Muslims.”

His call for action was allegedly echoed by Malik Faisal Akram, the man who held four people hostage for 10 hours at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas on Saturday. It is 25 miles from the federal facility at Fort Worth where Siddiqui is serving an 86-year sentence.

Akram, 44, died during a shootout with law-enforcement officers that ended the synagogue siege.

Choudary is believed to have influenced about 100 British jihadis through his online lectures and videos.

Siddiqui was arrested in Afghanistan in 2008 while carrying 2kg of sodium cyanide and plans for a chemical attack on New York City. During her trial she demanded jurors be subjected to DNA testing to check whether they were Jewish. She also attempted to shoot a guard during interrogation.

A neuroscientist by training who earned a scholarship to study biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1991, Siddiqui attended the same mosque later frequented by the Boston Marathon bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. She took part in firearms courses run by the National Rifle Association, was for a time on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Most Wanted list, and was publicly named by Daesh fighters as a candidate for a prisoner-swap deal for James Foley, the American photojournalist who was murdered in 2014.

A profile of Siddiqui by the Boston Globe in 2014 suggested that she had been radicalized by the outbreak of the war in Bosnia, after which she became a member of Al-Kifah Refugee Center, thought to have been Al-Qaeda’s operational hub in the US at the time.

Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism expert, told the Globe: “Aafia was from a prominent family with connections and a sympathy for jihad. She was just what they needed.”

Waqas Jilani, at the time a graduate student at Clark University, told the Globe that Siddiqui had boasted she would be proud to be on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, and urged fellow Muslims to take up arms and fight.

“She was always mouthing off about the US and the FBI being so bad and all,” he said.

Siddiqui’s former husband, Mohammed Amjad Khan, described how, having married her over the phone from Pakistan, he arrived in the US to discover she would regularly watch videos of Osama bin Laden and spent weekends at training camps with other members of Al-Kifah.

“I discovered that the well-being of our nascent family unit was not her prime goal in life,” he said. “Instead, it was to gain prominence in Muslim circles.”

He added he felt unable to introduce her to professional colleagues because she would “only want to talk about them converting to Islam. Invariably this would lead to unpleasantness.”

He added: “Her focus had shifted to jihad against America, instead of preaching to Americans so that they all become Muslims and America becomes a Muslim land.”

After the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, Siddiqui demanded that the couple return to Pakistan and get divorced. It is thought she later married Ammar Al-Baluchi, the nephew of 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.


Far-right presidential contender convicted of hate speech

Far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour at the Foreign Press Association headquarters, in Paris on Jan. 17, 2022. Zemmour was convicted of inciting racial hatred over 2020 comments he made about unaccompanied migrant children. (AP)
Far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour at the Foreign Press Association headquarters, in Paris on Jan. 17, 2022. Zemmour was convicted of inciting racial hatred over 2020 comments he made about unaccompanied migrant children. (AP)
Updated 33 min 14 sec ago

Far-right presidential contender convicted of hate speech

Far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour at the Foreign Press Association headquarters, in Paris on Jan. 17, 2022. Zemmour was convicted of inciting racial hatred over 2020 comments he made about unaccompanied migrant children. (AP)
  • A Paris court ordered Zemmour to pay a fine of €10,000
  • Zemmour said he will appeal the decision

PARIS: French far-right presidential candidate Éric Zemmour was convicted Monday of inciting racial hatred over 2020 comments he made about unaccompanied migrant children.
A Paris court ordered Zemmour to pay a fine of €10,000 (more than $11,000) and several thousand euros in damages to anti-racism groups.
Zemmour said he will appeal the decision.
“I’m one more time the victim of a political justice,” Zemmour told reporters, adding “I absolutely do not regret” the comments.
Zemmour, who has two prior hate speech convictions, went on trial in November on charges of “public insult” and “incitement to hatred or violence” against a group of people because of their ethnic, national, racial or religious origin.
Samuel Thomas, president of Maisons des Potes (“Homes of Friends“), a network of anti-racism associations, said the sentence is “very light.”
“We had hoped for him to be deprived of civic rights,” Thomas said. “So Éric Zemmour will be able to continue his political career.”
He added: “When you’re inciting racial hatred, you’re also responsible for crimes that are committed by far-right thugs.”
Zemmour, a 63-year-old former TV pundit who is running in France’s April 10 presidential election, is drawing fervent audiences with his anti-Islam, anti-immigration invective. He is considered among the major challengers to centrist President Emmanuel Macron, who is seen as the front-runner, according to polls. Macron has yet to confirm he will run for a second term.
The case against Zemmour focused on September 2020 comments that he made on French news broadcaster CNews about children who migrate to France without parents or guardians, calling them thieves, murderers and rapists who cost France money.
Zemmour wasn’t present at court for his trial or the verdict. In a statement in November, he denounced “an attempt to intimidate (him)” from prosecutors and anti-racist groups. He maintained his comments and said the political debate doesn’t take place in courts.
Zemmour also has an appeals trial Thursday on a charge of contesting crimes against humanity — which is illegal in France — for arguing in a 2019 television debate that Marshal Philippe Petain, head of Vichy’s collaborationist government during World War II, saved France’s Jews from the Holocaust.
A court acquitted him last year, saying Zemmour’s comments negated Petain’s role in the extermination, but explained that he wasn’t convicted because he had spoken in the heat of the moment.
Zemmour has repeated similar comments in recent months, and lawyers contesting his acquittal plan to cite that point as evidence in the appeals trial.
Zemmour previously was convicted of incitement to racial hatred after justifying discrimination against Black and Arab people in 2010, and of incitement to religious hatred for anti-Islam comments in 2016. He was sentenced to pay court costs and a 5,000-euro ($5,660) fine.
He has also been tried in other cases where he was acquitted.
Zemmour is a descendant of Berber Jews from Algeria. He was born in France in 1958 to parents who came from the North African country, then a French colony, a few years earlier.


Afghan earthquake death toll rises to 26: Provincial spokesman

Afghan earthquake death toll rises to 26: Provincial spokesman
Updated 51 min 23 sec ago

Afghan earthquake death toll rises to 26: Provincial spokesman

Afghan earthquake death toll rises to 26: Provincial spokesman

HERAT: The death toll from an earthquake on Monday in western Afghanistan rose to 26, an official told AFP.
"Five women and four children are among the 26 people killed in the earthquake," said Baz Mohammad Sarwary, spokesman for Badghis province that was hit by the earthquake, adding that four more were injured.
Most of the victims died when roofs of their houses collapsed in Qadis district of the province.
Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
Earthquakes can cause significant damage to poorly built homes and buildings in impoverished Afghanistan.


North Korea fires more suspected missiles, flouts new sanctions

North Korea fires more suspected missiles, flouts new sanctions
Updated 17 January 2022

North Korea fires more suspected missiles, flouts new sanctions

North Korea fires more suspected missiles, flouts new sanctions
  • Two suspected “short-range ballistic missiles” were fired east from an airport in Pyongyang early Monday

SEOUL: North Korea fired two suspected ballistic missiles Monday, Seoul said, its fourth weapons test this month as Pyongyang flexes its military muscle while ignoring offers of talks from the United States.
Despite biting international sanctions, Pyongyang has conducted a string of weapons tests this year, including of hypersonic missiles, as leader Kim Jong Un pursues his avowed goal of further strengthening the military.
Reeling economically from a self-imposed coronavirus blockade, impoverished North Korea has not responded to Washington’s offers of talks, while doubling down on weapons tests and vowing a “stronger and certain” response to any attempts to rein it in.
The launches come at a delicate time in the region, with North Korea’s sole major ally China set to host the Winter Olympics next month and South Korea gearing up for a presidential election in March.
Two suspected “short-range ballistic missiles” were fired east from an airport in Pyongyang early Monday, the South Korean military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, with Japan also confirming the launch.
Fired just before 9 am (0000 GMT), they flew 380 kilometers (about 240 miles) at an altitude of 42 km, the JCS added.
The frequent and varied tests this year indicate North Korea “is trying to improve its technology and operational capability in terms of covert actions,” Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters.
Pyongyang said it successfully tested hypersonic gliding missiles on January 5 and January 11, with the second launch personally supervised by Kim.
In response, the United States last week imposed fresh sanctions on five North Koreans connected to the country’s ballistic missile programs, prompting an angry reaction from Pyongyang.
A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman described the move as a “provocation,” according to state news agency KCNA.
If “the US adopts such a confrontational stance, the DPRK will be forced to take stronger and certain reaction to it,” the spokesman said hours before Pyongyang fired two train-launched missiles Friday.
Analysts said the Monday test also appeared to be an attempt to send the United States a message.
“It is signalling that it will forge ahead with tests despite criticism,” Hong Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul told AFP.
Hypersonic missiles are a top priority in Pyongyang’s new five-year defense development plan, unveiled in January 2021, which it has pursued while dialogue with the United States remained stalled.
With the country battling major economic hardship domestically after years of Covid-induced isolation, Pyongyang may be looking to offer citizens a military victory ahead of key domestic anniversaries.
“It needs to present something to North Koreans,” said Cheong Seong-chang of the Center for North Korea Studies at the Sejong Institute.
“It now has become clear that it will be difficult for the North to score on the economic side.”
This weekend, a North Korean freight train crossed the Yalu River railroad bridge into China for the first time in over a year, according to the Yonhap news agency.
The move could signal the prospect of resumed China-North Korea land trade, which has been suspended since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.
It is likely the missile launches will ease off ahead of the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics, said Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies.
“As stability on the peninsula is a prerequisite for the successful Beijing Olympics, the North will not cross a red line,” Yang said.


Japan’s Kishida says virus measures, defense top priorities

Japan’s Kishida says virus measures, defense top priorities
Updated 17 January 2022

Japan’s Kishida says virus measures, defense top priorities

Japan’s Kishida says virus measures, defense top priorities
  • North Korea on Monday fired two possible ballistic missiles, which Japanese officials said landed off the North’s eastern coast

TOKYO: Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday said fighting the pandemic was a “top priority” in his speech opening this year’s parliamentary session, as the Tokyo region was hit by surging infections.
Kishida also named stepping up defense measures against rising regional threats as a priority, hours after North Korea test-fired two possible ballistic missiles — its fourth this year.
“I will devote my body and soul to win this fight against the coronavirus,” Kishida said in his speech before the lower house, which marked the start of its new 150-day session. He called on people to help each other to overcome “the national crisis” of the pandemic.
The Japanese capital reported 4,172 new cases on Sunday, raising the hospital bed occupancy rate to 19.3 percent. Tokyo authorities have said that when that rate breaches 20 percent, they will request the government place the area under pre-emergency status and move toward restrictions like working from home and shorter hours for eateries.
Kishida reiterated his plans to keep Japan’s stringent border controls in place, banning most foreign entrants until the end of February, while the country tries to speed up booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines and reinforce medical systems to support an increasing number of patients being treated at home.
The highly transmissible omicron variant has driven infections higher and started to paralyze medical and public services in some areas, as more people are forced to self-isolate. Japan last week trimmed the 14-day quarantine period to 10 days.
Kishida urged companies to promote remote work, and called on schools to use online classes flexibly. Booster shots only started last month with medical workers and so far less than 1 percent of the population has had their third jab.
Japan recently cut the wait between a second and third shot for elderly people to six months from eight. In part because of a shortage of imported vaccines, most younger Japanese are not expected to get their turn until March.
In his parliamentary speech, Kishida also addressed what he said was an “increasingly severe and complex” regional situation. “I’m determined to protect the people’s lives and daily life,” the premier vowed.
North Korea’s repeated and escalating test-firing of ballistic missiles “are absolutely not permissible and we should not overlook its significant progress of missile technology,” Kishida added.
North Korea on Monday fired two possible ballistic missiles, which Japanese officials said landed off the North’s eastern coast.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, along with China’s rapid military buildup, have already prompted Kishida’s government to raise Japan’s military budget.
Kishida repeated his plans to review Japan’s defense policy, and consider the development of a controversial pre-emptive strike capability, to “drastically strengthen defense power”.
Kishida is set to hold an online summit with Pesident Joe Biden on Jan. 21 as the two leaders seek to further strengthen bilateral ties, Tokyo and Washington announced Monday.
Kishida called the US alliance “the lynchpin of Japan’s diplomatic and security policies.”
Kishida, who is from the city of Hiroshima that the US attacked with an atomic bomb in World War Two, also said he sought “a world without nuclear weapons” and plans to launch a conference with former and serving world leaders on phasing out nuclear weapons. He said he hoped the initiative would have its first meeting in his hometown this year.
Kishida pledged to promote energy reforms to meet the target of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. He said he supported the use of “innovative” nuclear energy, nuclear fusion technology as well as renewables to meet this goal.