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Afghanistan: Peace and Security Undermined: Suspension of Malalai Joya from Parliament

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Please write to the officials calling for the reinstatement of Malalai Joya

Equality Now, Women's Action 21.5, October 2007
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Malalai Joya in Press Conference in Kabul on May 21 Malalai Joya in Press Conference in Kabul on May 21

Malalai Joya entered Afghanistan's new Parliament in September 2005 pledging to "protect the rights of the oppressed and safeguard women's rights." She won the second highest number of votes in Farah province, taking her seat in the Lower House (Wolesi Jirga). A staunch critic of the warlords and defender of women's rights, Malalai has consistently been stopped from speaking in Parliament or had speeches cut short, has survived a number of assassination attempts and is forced to sleep in different places every night in order to stay alive.

On 21 May 2007 Malalai was suspended from Parliament for an interview she gave to a private Afghan television station in which she lamented that the Afghan Parliament was worse than a stable of animals. She was suspended under Article 70 of the Rules of Procedures of the Wolesi Jirga. These rules were undergoing revision at the time and had not yet been approved by Parliament. Article 70 proposes that a Member of the Assembly will be subject to disciplinary procedures in the event of a number of offenses, including "intimidation and threatening of a member, defamation and accusation of others, insult and desecration against the administrative board government officials and the staffers of the general secretariat". Under Article 70, the Member can be suspended for one day and for a further unspecified number of days at the request of the administrative board (comprising of central government and local offices) and approval of the Wolesi Jirga. Malalai's conduct was not referred to the administrative board . Instead, she was suspended following a majority show of hands by the Wolesi Jirga. Malalai wrote directly to the Supreme Court to protest her suspension and the procedure used to secure it. The Afghan Constitution protects freedom of speech and gives immunity from prosecution for views expressed during the performance of parliamentary duty. She subsequently heard through a television announcement that her case would be referred to the appropriate court. However, there is still no official indication as to how or when her case will be dealt with. In the meantime, she remains suspended from Parliament, leaving her constituency without proper representation.

Malalai has been continually threatened and abused both within parliament and outside. She has recounted Members of Parliament calling her a "prostitute" or "whore." On 7 May 2006 Member of Parliament Almas Khan spoke about the anniversary and achievements of the day that freedom fighters (Mujahidin) seized power from the Afghan communist regime, which was followed by civil war among various groups. Malalai on this occasion was given the opportunity to speak. She commented on Mr. Almas' claim that the atrocities committed during this time were mistakes, condemning them instead as criminal acts. Her speech resulted in members of parliament hurling water bottles at her and it has been widely reported that some parliamentarians called for her to be raped and killed. According to another Member of Parliament, it was also reported that Rasul Sayyaf, a former warlord who has himself been accused by human rights organizations of war crimes, ordered someone to wait by the door and stab Malalai as she walked out. Malalai was protected by other Members of Parliament who formed a human ring around her and enlisted the protection of security forces.

Since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Afghan women have been calling for equal rights and highlighting the urgent need for human security. At the Afghan Women's Summit for Democracy, organized by Equality Now in coalition with other women's organizations in December 2001, 40 Afghan women leaders recommended the central inclusion of women in decision-making and all peace processes, endorsed principles of non-discrimination based on gender, age, ethnicity, disability, religion and political affiliation, and called for assurance of a safe and secure environment for women and girls. Afghanistan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in March 2003 and adopted a new Constitution in January 2004, which provides for equal rights for women and men before the law. However, women continue to be violently targeted in Afghanistan and denied equal rights and equal protection of the law. The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) published research in 2006 documenting systematic abuse of women's rights in Afghanistan, including violence against women instigated by state actors such as the army and police, including forced prostitution, forced marriage, rape, kidnapping and sexual assaults. In June 2007 two women journalists were murdered with many others receiving death threats. On 25 September 2006 Safia Ama Jan, the southern provincial head of Afghanistan's Ministry of Women's Affairs, was murdered outside the front gate of her Kandahar home. In recent months a large number of schools for girls have been forced to close after being attacked.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 recognizes the critical role of women in promoting peace and security and calls for increased representation of women in decision-making. Malalai Joya was duly elected to Parliament and has been consistently and courageously speaking out for human rights, recognizing that respect for human rights is fundamental to peace and security. Her suspension undermines democracy in Afghanistan and is a violation of her rights, as well as the rights of those she represents.

Recommended Actions

Please write to the officials below calling for the reinstatement of Malalai Joya and a full investigation into the way she was excluded from representing her constituency and participating in parliamentary proceedings. Remind them of the provisions of the Afghan Constitution that guarantee freedom of speech and women's equality. Insist that the right of Malalai Joya and all other Members of Parliament to peacefully express their views be protected and that procedures be put in place to prevent the suppression of free speech and democracy. Call on these officials to ensure the personal safety of Malalai and all others seeking to protect and promote their full equal rights under the Constitution.

President Hamid Karzai
Gul Khana Palace
Presidential Palace
Kabul, Afghanistan
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Chief Justice Abdul Salam Azimi
Afghan Supreme Court
Charai Seahat Hama
Kabul, Afghanistan

Yunus Qanooni, Speaker of the House
Afghanistan National Assembly
Wolesi Jirga
Kabul, Afghanistan

Please send copies of your letters to:

Dr. Husn Banu Ghazanfar
Minister of Women's Affairs
Ministry of Women's Affairs
Kabul, Afghanistan