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IV. Attacks on Political Actors and Political Activities

Attacks on Political Parties, their Members, and Leaders

Since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of political intimidation and violence by army, police, and intelligence forces in several areas in the southeast. In the first half of 2003, Human Rights Watch has documented many new cases, both in Kabul and neighboring provinces, in which security forces have threatened political leaders and other politically active persons, especially those who have been involved in organizing opposition political parties. This section outlines cases of politically motivated attacks and intimidation.

The Legacy of the Loya Jirga

The June 2002 loya jirga—a traditional Afghan “grand council” convened under the 2001 Bonn Agreement—was called to choose a second interim government to rule Afghanistan until elections in 2004. The selection process for the loya jirga, which took place in May and June of 2002, was conducted in two stages. During the first stage, candidates were elected in their home districts by traditional local shuras, or councils; during the second stage, these candidates attended a regional election where they chose a smaller number of delegates from among themselves to attend the loya jirga in Kabul.184 Human Rights Watch has previously documented abuses by political actors in Afghanistan during the selection process to the loya jirga.185

During the loya jirga itself, several powerful military and party leaders threatened less powerful delegates, and agents of the Amniat-e Melli spied on and delivered threats to delegates.186 Those involved in the threats and surveillance included forces under Defense Minister Fahim and Minister of Education Qanooni, agents of Burhanuddin Rabbani and Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, and officials of the Hezb-e Wahdat and Harakat-i Islami parties of Afghanistan. Agents of Ismail Khan, the governor of Herat, also threatened participants, as did Abdul Haji Qadir, a Nangarhar leader who later served as the vice-president of Afghanistan and who was assassinated on July 6, 2002.187

Through the rest of 2002 and in 2003, Human Rights Watch documented numerous additional cases of threats, arrests, and killings that took place during the loya jirga in June 2002.188

The intimidation experienced during the loya jirga is fresh in the minds of many former delegates, both within and outside of Kabul. Many people trace their current fear of speaking openly about political matters back to what happened during the loya jirga.

One delegate described a conflict during the loya jirga with a military commander with Harakat-e Islami that in March 2003 still made him fear for his safety (for security reasons, the name of the commander is omitted here):

They arrested me when I was running for the loya jirga . . . after I complained about the fact that Harakat was dominating the [local] elections. [A commander] said to me, “You have criticized me—that was wrong.” There were others with him. They threatened me: “If you stand against us, we will kill you. Maybe it will be an accident, maybe a car will hit you, you won’t know.” And they did kill some people.189

The delegate went on to describe how two other politically active persons had been killed in their houses in his neighborhood in Kabul during the loya jirga—killings which Human Rights Watch confirmed but which have not been investigated or solved.

The delegate, along with other residents of his neighborhood, said these events had left an indelible impression on many residents of his neighborhood: that those who opposed powerful commanders would be dealt with harshly.190 The delegate said many people continue to fear commanders because of what happened during the loya jirga.

The Case of Mohammed S.

Other politically active persons confirmed in 2003 that their troubles with political intimidation began during the 2002 loya jirga. For example, one organizer, Mohammed S., a politically active leader in Kabul who tried to organize a new political group before the loya jirga, told Human Rights Watch that agents of the Amniat-e Melli arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned him and threatened him with torture for his political activities.191 He said the agents questioned him about his activities and forced him to name his follow organizers. Mohammed S. was detained before the loya jirga began and was held throughout the meeting, for almost three months. He was released on June 23, 2002, he told us, but continued to face threats into 2003.

Mohammed S. described his arrest on April 1, 2002:

There were four people. One was in a police uniform. . . . They followed me down the block. “We want to talk to you,” they called out. “Come into this house.”

I said, “Who are you?” —“This is a police officer,” one of them said, pointing to the teenage policeman. “Come with us.” — “He is just a teenager,” I said. He pulled out a revolver. “I told you to come with us,” he said. They took me up the block and into a house. The man showed me the revolver again. “Get into the house,” he said. Once we were inside they said, “We are from Amniat-e Melli.” They searched me and my bag. They asked me questions. . . . They told me to sit down, and they searched and read through all my papers and books. . . . From 2:00 until 3:00 they kept me there, searching and asking me questions.

That same day, Mohammed S. said, he was taken to the Amniat-e Melli Directory Number One, a compound near Bibi Mahru mountain in Kabul. He was put into a large room with approximately two hundred other detainees.

There were no questions then—we were just detained. There was no toilet, no food, for two days. No water. Because there was no toilet, some people called out for the toilet. No one came, so they ended up using the corner. Well, the guards came and they yelled at the people who used the corner, and they made them clean it up. They gave them some buckets and mops.

There was no place to sleep. We needed to lean up against each other to sleep. We slept leaning on each other as pillows.

Later they let some of us out to use the toilet. We told them, “Look at us. It will be an indignity if we dirty ourselves.”

Mohammed S. said that he saw another, smaller room in the same building in which another set of people were being imprisoned, approximately fifty by his estimate. After two days, the prisoners in both rooms were taken to another room in the basement of the building. It was in these sets of smaller rooms that interrogations took place:

They put us in the rooms, thirty to each room. During this time, they were giving us unclean food, and everyone got diarrhea. The rooms were very damp and had lice. Everyone got lice.

At midnight, they were taking people out for investigations, interrogations, one at a time. There was a room for this. They would shackle people high up, so that they had to be on their toes, and keep them like that all night. The feet were also shackled.

There were usually three or four men in the room conducting the interrogations. They would use electricity. They would threaten people first. . . . They had a telephone with a generator on it, one of those old telephones that must be cranked. They would hold up the wires and say, “We’ll use this if you don’t talk to us.” Then they would point to the other equipment and say, “That’s the real machine, and it will shock you even more.”

They would ask me, “When did you establish your shura [group], who do you work with, who are you working against?”

The prisoners were tortured if they did not answer questions or disobeyed the orders of the Amniat officials, he said:

They would punish those who disobeyed orders and those they didn’t like. They would take them into the hall and put this heavy, dirty blanket over them, infested with lice. This one guy, who was a cook at the office of some political party, was taken and they put the blanket over him. The blanket would make people very hot and give them lice. It was absolutely terrible. Usually it was used before interrogations, at least for some. Sometimes it was used after.

I saw people being beaten in that room with parts of a tire . . . a whip made from a tire. It made huge bruises on their bodies, all over their body. I saw on the way to interrogations people being beaten. I saw people being shackled, being beaten, and we could hear them screaming.

Because he answered questions and wrote down the names of his fellow organizers, Mohammed S. said he was not tortured. Once, he was able to talk to the warden of the facility and complained about the interrogations. The warden said he could not act: “He just told me, ‘This is not within my jurisdiction. People have come from the interrogation unit of Amniat, and they are more powerful than I. I can’t do anything.’”

After approximately two months, Mohammed S. was transferred to the Sadarad facility. This building was used in the 1970s as the Prime Minister’s house and was later an interrogation center used by KHAD (Khademat-e Ettela'at-e Dawlati, or State Intelligence Service), the Afghan Soviet-trained intelligence service in the 1980s, which engaged in systematic torture of detainees during the Soviet occupation. During this time, his family registered him with the International Committee for the Red Cross, believing that he was being held as a political prisoner or alleged “prisoner of war” by Afghan officials.

There were a lot of interrogations there [at Sadarad]. They accused me of espionage. “You are ISI!” [Pakistani Intelligence] they would say. That sort of thing. “Not I!” I would say. “I hate Pakistan!” They slapped me on the face. “You are an infidel!” they would say. . . .

The worst torture was that my family didn’t know where I was, that I was arrested and they didn’t know, and that they thought I was killed.

After Mohammed S. was released, he continued to fear that Amniat-e Melli agents would kill him. In late 2002, he told us, his brother, who was also involved in political organizing, was shot and killed in his car in Kabul. Mohammad S. has now curtailed most of his political organizing activities, and meets other members of his party in secret.

Threats and Arrests after the Loya Jirga

Crackdowns on political freedoms continued in Kabul and other provinces after the loya jirga. Numerous political party leaders told Human Rights Watch about threats they received during late 2002 and 2003. Many threats came after political parties distributed publications critical of certain governmental officials.

The Case of H. Rahman

In late 2002, a small political party in Kabul, in association with some members in other provinces, began publishing a bulletin with commentary and articles about political issues in Afghanistan.192 (The group asked that its name not be printed.) In November 2002, the party published a series of articles criticizing the makeup of the Afghan cabinet, specifically criticizing the fact there were several members of the government who were involved in fighting around Kabul in the early 1990s.193

The party leader, “H. Rahman,”194 began to receive threats in late November 2002, including threats from the current education minister and Shura-e Nazar leader, Younis Qanooni:

Qanooni was angry with us [for publishing the article about the government]. One of his deputies [named omitted] called me on the telephone. He called at 7:00 a.m.

He said that I had made a mistake. He said that he was coming with some others and that they would be there at 8:30 to settle the issue. He said, “Your paper is a source of scattering and division between the mujahidin and the people. You create conflict between us that can not be solved and will finally result in catastrophe.”

I defended myself and told him my point of view . . . . But he said, “No, what you are doing just leads to chauvinism against the mujahidin.” Then he said, “Well, we have an hour and half to figure some solution out. We will be there at 8:30 to settle the issue. If you do not submit, you have no right to live any longer.”

Then Qanooni got on the phone. He said, “The road you are following is wrong: it is just flattery to the foreigners. You have no right to interfere in our affairs. I want you to revise your movement, your publication. You are against the mujahidin.”

But I said, “I have been a mujahidin!” —And he said, “I know, but you have changed.” —I said, “No, I have not changed, but you have taken power, and you have changed.” —He said, “Do you accept? Will you submit?” —“No,” I said. —“Then we will be there at 8:30.”

Believing he would be arrested or even killed, Rahman said, he tried to get help from the Interior Ministry and the police, to no avail:

We had an hour and a half to figure something out. The first thing I did was I called the interior minister [at the time], Mr. Wardak. But when I talked to him, he said, “I cannot help you. I will need twenty-four hours to get police deployed for you.”

I said that I had only one and half hours, and he said again, “I can’t help you. I have to talk to the police. . . . It takes time.”

So I called the police headquarters. I talked to a police official, Noor Mohammad, the head of the police. He said, “In such extraordinary cases we need the approval of the minister. . . ,” which was whom I had just talked to.

Rahman called a European diplomat in Kabul whom he knew, who was able to contact officials in ISAF. Within the hour, he told us, an ISAF patrol was at his office. There were apparently some members of Amniat-e Melli or other government officials there by the time ISAF arrived:

When ISAF got here, there were many strange people without uniforms standing around outside, people we had never seen before. . . . But because ISAF and that E.U. representative were here, there was no attack. . . . After some consultations with some friends, I left Kabul for ten days.

A few weeks later, in December 2002, several other Amniat officials visited the office of the political party, trying to convince him to stop printing his publication and to join with Shura-e Nazar, Rahman told us.

[Their] main argument . . . was that democracy is doomed to defeat and will end in catastrophe. They were calm and polite at first and listened to my arguments. But then later, they said that what we do, our party, is in favor of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the United States. . . .

“Amniat is a guardian of the national interest,” [one] said. “Amniat will not remain silent.” It means that they will do what it takes, they will make threats, they will make payoffs, they will do what they want to do.

A few days later, Rahman said, more Amniat-e Melli officials visited him:

Later, [name of Amniat official deleted] came with another person, and they intimidated me. If I follow my policies, he said, I may be exiled, put in prison or assassinated. So, he said, I should change my policy.

His main demands were this: that I either stop publishing [my publication] or that the publication still exist but with a change in its policies and positions. In exchange for either, he said, my fellow party members and I could have high-ranking positions in the government, positions in whatever office I wanted. . . .

They were telling us that the path we follow in the long term is not good, that people will not support us. All the time, they said, we will have disagreements with the government and the authorities may not tolerate it. Therefore, they said, you may run into trouble and face bitter consequences.

Then the threats got even worse, he explained. In the middle of January 2003, after the party’s paper published a report about harassment its members had faced from police, a senior official from Amniat-e Melli came to Rahman’s office and threatened him:

He intimidated me terribly and told me that he would arrest me and put me in prison if articles like that were printed in the paper. He told me that I did not have the right to publish that kind of article, and that my papers were against the jihad and the national interest. He said that if I continued my activities, he would do something to me that no one had ever dreamed of, and besides that, he said, no one would ever be able to find me.

Over the next few days, Rahman said, he received six threats over the telephone from persons he did not recognize, saying that he would soon be arrested or killed.

In late January 2003, Rahman published an article critical of Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf. Afterwards, Rahman said, Sayyaf himself called him on his telephone and harassed him, asking him to come to his house to explain himself. Rahman refused to go because he feared for his safety, he told us.

A few months later, in late May 2003, Rahman was driving into Kabul city after visiting a friend in neighboring Logar when he was followed by soldiers in a car who threatened him with Kalashnikovs. Rahman tried to flee, he said, and after a car chase, he made it to a bazaar, where the soldiers crashed into his car and surrounded him, guns drawn. The soldiers took Rahman out of his car, threw him to the ground, and beat him severely with kicks and rifle butts:

So they beat me, and while they were beating me, they were asking me, “Who told you to write articles against the mujahidin, and to say that April 27th [the day of the 1978 communist coup] and April 28th [the day in 1992 when mujahidin forces overthrew the formerly Soviet-backed government in Kabul] were two brothers?” which was the title of our last paper. There were six of them, three of them had Afghan military uniforms, two were in plain clothes, and one person had on a police uniform. They beat me terribly. Lots of people gathered around us. Under the pressure of these people, who were saying, “Don’t beat this poor guy!” and “Leave him alone!” and “Go to Kabul and solve your problems,” they then left me alone, warning me that I “would be left alive this time” and that the next time I would be killed.

The Chilling Effect of Political Intimidation

Other political party leaders were not as bold as Rahman. Another political organizer in Kabul, who refused to speak openly about his experiences because of fear of reprisals, said he was afraid of Sayyaf specifically and said that many Amniat-e Melli officials were acting on Sayyaf’s behalf:

I was constantly arrested and harassed during the loya jirga—by Sayyaf’s people and by Amniat. Now they are making problems for me again and for my friends. . . . We have been followed, spied on, and threatened. There are arbitrary arrests all the time—people held by the authorities for money. They will arrest you at checkpoints for some crime they make up.195

Another political party leader, a former resident of Paghman, told Human Rights Watch about his fears of security forces in Kabul and in particular forces connected to Sayyaf. He said that he organized his party’s meetings in secret. He described the consequences of organizing or speaking publicly:

We have to keep our activities secret. . . . We are ready to sacrifice, but we cannot throw away our lives. . . . Many times our party’s members in different parts of Afghanistan have expressed their anxiety about security. My advice to them is to be cautious and to not work openly.

We were intimidated [in Pakistan] even during Massoud’s time [in the early 1990s, before the Taliban was in power]. . . . Now we carry out our acts not openly but in secret because we know that if we cross the red line they will kill us.196

Another man, a former refugee who had previously been active in community organization in Pakistan, described why he decided not to be involved in political activities after returning to Afghanistan:

I don’t want to work in the government. I have fear from these groups. I don’t want to be well known. If I become well known, I know that my life will be in danger. I would rather live a calm and peaceful life.197

The man said he would stay in Kabul and not return to his home village in Ghazni, because, he said, he would face problems there because of his former political activity.198

The party leader from Paghman, quote earlier, said he was afraid to travel to Paghman, where Sayyaf’s supporters are in control:

I cannot go to Paghman. My [relatives live] there. I could pay [them] a visit randomly with my son, but I cannot stay there longer than a little while, and I cannot stay overnight because the fundamentalist groups are strong, and they can do what they want.199

The party leader also offered his opinion of the political climate in Kabul:

Among the authorities who have come from the west, like Ashraf Ghani [the minister of finance] and Jilali [the minister of interior], they can tolerate some opposition to some extent, so they can tolerate us [criticizing them]. But the fundamentalists and the jihadi groups cannot tolerate us. . . . They know that new political parties are the main threat to their careers. Specifically, when they are disarmed and supposed to be out of power, they may be taken to court. Therefore, they might be willing to even assassinate the political activists, if they think they are dangerous.

If a member of our party—and any political party, except the jihadis—does anything publicly, he might be killed.200

The same leader admitted to Human Rights Watch that some political leaders had been critical of the government and security forces and were operating openly but said there was a specific reason for their openness:

The question might arise in your mind that there are political parties who do act publicly. . . . Well that’s true. But they are protected and supported by something or someone; for instance, international actors or agencies, or foreign governments. Because we do not have such sources of protection, we cannot act publicly.201

Human Rights Watch documented politically motivated threats and arrests outside of Kabul as well. Political leaders told Human Rights Watch that in certain other provinces the situation was worse than in Kabul.

In Jalalabad, Human Rights Watch received reports that the eastern region commander, Hazrat Ali, ordered a politically motivated arrest of a suspected opponent. In early April 2003, Hazrat Ali’s troops—including Sami—arrested “Abdullah Qasim,” a politically active former member of parliament from Jalalabad in the government of King Zahir Shah.202 He was held for several days and released. Family members refused to talk with Human Rights Watch about what happened, but a neighbor who spoke with them described what happened:

I went to his house on my way back from Peshawar and his family told me that he was arrested at 8:00 in the night. [Commander] Sami, the nephew and son-in-law of Hazrat Ali, was with some policemen, and arrested him.203

Other neighbors confirmed this account and said that one of Abdullah Qasim’s relatives was arrested with him.204 “He was arrested because of a land dispute, and because he is influential,” one said.205

[Abdullah Qasim] was a former minister of parliament of Afghanistan and is a writer, poet and an influential leader of his tribe. Because he is a man who could be the next governor of the city, he [Hazrat Ali] started to intimidate him right from the beginning. . . .

In my perception he was arrested for two reasons: first, he had good property and Hazrat Ali wanted to seize the property; second, he is a good writer and he had written some critical articles in some Pakistani papers about Jalalabad and Hazrat Ali, so he [Hazrat Ali] has arrested him.206

Abdullah Qasim was released soon after, possibly because he allowed Hazrat Ali to have his land, they said. Neighbors told Human Rights Watch that he had been beaten while in custody.207 After his release, Abdullah Qasim fled across the Afghan border to Peshawar, Pakistan.208

Human Rights Watch also received credible information that police commanders in Ghani Khel, a town to the southeast of Jalalabad, threatened two politically active persons. According to a local advocate, police commanders told one civil society organizer that he would be killed for his activities.209 Another political organizer, who helped to start a primary school for girls and speaks in favor of women’s rights, received death threats. “He was told that if he continues his activities, ‘he should expect death,’” the advocate told us.210

In the western province of Herat, Ismail Khan continues to impose complete control over the political environment, using his security forces to silence opposition. (The human rights situation in Herat was the subject of two Human Rights Watch reports in October and November 2002.)211 In March 2002, Ismail Khan ordered the arrest of four university professors in Herat for organizing a political group.212 UNAMA intervened and the professors were released.213 A few days before, the leader of a political party trying to organize in Herat was also ordered arrested but fled to Kabul.214

Attacks on Others Who Criticize the Government

Ordinary people without formal political affiliations have also been threatened for speaking openly or criticizing governmental leaders, especially outside of Kabul.

For example, on January 17, 2003, in Gardez, a retired school teacher stood up in a tribal meeting to complain that government workers and, in particular, teachers had not been paid in seven months and that teachers generally were paid too little.215 The teacher also criticized the governor, Raz Mohammad Dalili, implying that he was living comfortably while other governmental employees were in need.216 The local radio station in Gardez reported on the meeting and the teacher’s complaints.217 According to two separate accounts from journalists, Governor Dalili reacted angrily to the report; he later intimidated the teacher and ordered the radio station to be “investigated.”218 According to one journalist:

I was in a meeting where Governor Dalili was . . . talking about this with some of the officials from his office and the army and police. “How can he can say such things about me?” he said. “He is a liar. We should find out who he is. Find him and bring him to me.”219

The teacher temporarily went into hiding.220 Police and army officials later visited the radio station director and interrogated him about his qualifications.221 (This case is also discussed in the section below on attacks on journalists.)

Human Rights Watch also documented a case in Kabul, in late May 2003, in which Kabul police arrested and beat several students after they organized a small protest in the medical school at Kabul University, complaining about nepotism in the university’s grading system. A witness to the arrests said that the police beat the students while arresting them, punching and kicking them.222 Later, after the students were brought to the Kabul main police station, the chief of Kabul police himself, Basir Salangi (a Jamiat-e Islami commander and member of Shura-e Nazar) beat two of them.223 The beatings occurred in Salangi’s office, after Salangi interrogated one of the students, whom he thought was a leader of the protests:

Basir Salangi got very furious and ordered his guard to drag [the first student] out of the door, and while his guard was pulling him out of office, Basir Salangi himself stood up and quickly came out from behind his desk and kicked him strongly to his stomach and then held [the student’s] head down and beat him with his knee in his stomach and punched him many times in his kidney. Salangi’s guard was also beating [the student] during this time. [The student] was holding his hands around his face to protect his face from harm. They beat him for about two minutes. Then Qadous Khan [the police chief of district three in Kabul] came in and pointed out [another student] to Basir Salangi, and said that he was, in his view, the notorious troublemaker. Basir Salangi then turned towards [the other student], who was sitting on a sofa in the office, and hit him, hard, with a slap on the face, so much that he fell down and was dizzy. Then Basir Salangi kicked him, as he [the second student] was holding his face, and then Basir Salangi picked up a small table, used for putting down cups of tea, to beat [the student], but fortunately the other people who were in the office held him and did not let him beat the guy with the table.224

Other students confirmed this account. Some were released that same day, but the two who were beaten by Salangi were held for another three days.225

Students from Jalalabad also complained about not being able to speak or express their political views openly. One of them described the lack of political freedom at Jalalabad University:

It is chaos! You actually never know what you are allowed and what you are not. Irresponsible armed men impose their will on people. . . . We are strictly forbidden to participate in political activities. If we do not obey, it harms our career and, as the worst scenario, we will be expelled from university. . . . We cannot express our ideas and there is no freedom of expression. If you say something openly—you will run in trouble. As a student, I’m always careful and do not like to disturb my family; they will run into trouble because of my activities.226

The student disparaged authorities’ claims that they had established security in Jalalabad, saying the claims about security were meaningless given the lack of political freedoms: “They claim that they have established security here. Well, there was ‘security’ under the Taliban and there is ‘security’ when you are in prison too.”227

Attacks on Women’s Rights Advocates

While some politically active people have been threatened for criticizing military commanders or other governmental leaders, some women, in areas such as Jalalabad and Laghman, have been targeted simply for speaking publicly or speaking about and promoting women’s rights. These attacks punish not only the women involved, but also have a chilling effect on all women who wish to advocate on behalf of other women or participate in public affairs, such as the rebuilding of the country’s government and its civil society. As one women’s rights activist, who had been threatened many times in 2003, explained: “I do not care so much for my personal safety, but I am afraid that if I am killed, then the women of [in the area where I work] will not dare to come out of their houses.”228

In Jalalabad, Education Department head Abdul Ghani, provincial administrator Haji Omar, and several local soldiers have intimidated women from speaking publicly. According to a Jalalabad government official, Abdul Ghani ordered female teachers “not to attend public occasions or meetings without his permission.”229

A woman told Human Rights Watch that Haji Omar excluded her from a government meeting in April 2003 because she was a woman.230 According to others at the meeting who asked about her absence, Haji Omar told them that “[w]omen should not have the right to sit with men,” and he threatened to boycott any meetings she attended in the future.231 The woman subsequently decided not to read a speech she had prepared for another government meeting because, she said, she was afraid.232

A woman whom Abdul Ghani intimidated for speaking publicly about women’s rights told Human Rights Watch:

I got back here from Kabul, where I spoke [at a public event] in favor of gender equality and addressed women’s problems in society and gave interviews with international media. Since the day I returned [in April], I have been intimidated, only from one source—the head of the Education Department. He told me, directly in front of other female teachers, that I have sold my spirit and I am a slave of the westerns, and he accused me of being a member of Khalq [a communist party] and Afghan Millat [a local opposition party in Jalalabad].233

In early April 2003, another woman activist declined to read a poem during a picnic for Gul-e-Narange (Orange Blossom) in Jalalabad.234 When a colleague, who said she was good at reading poems, asked her why, she replied, “Because we do not feel free to talk in public now. We do not dare to appear in public and declaim poems.”235 Her colleague told Human Rights Watch:

I do not believe that it is the families or the Talibs [that she is afraid of]. In my impression, it is the armed men who make women feel unsafe to appear in public. This is because for a long time, fighting has discouraged women, and the power is now in the hands of irresponsible troops, and power abuse is routine. Women see with their own eyes what happens around them.236

Not only women have been threatened for speaking about women’s rights. A local advocate in Jalalabad reported that:

Syeed Mahboob Shah, an influential leader and an elected delegate for the loya jirga, was also intimidated. He helped to start a primary school for girls and speaks in favor of women’s rights. He was intimidated with death by the same police forces in Ghani Khel [village in Eastern Nangarhar]. He was told that if he continues his activities, “he should expect death.”237

In March 2003 in Laghman province, east of Kabul, women were threatened and assaulted for advocating for and speaking publicly about women’s rights. On March 9, 2003, a woman teacher was assaulted in her home for speaking at a ceremony commemorating International Women’s Day on March 8. According to a friend familiar with the events, the teacher had recited a poem she had written about Afghanistan and women’s rights, which contained sections asserting that “men and women have the same rights” and that women should have the same human rights as men.238

The night after the Women’s Day ceremony, armed men broke into the teacher’s home, her friend told us. The teacher was sleeping with her daughter in one room, and her two nephews were in another room, she said. The teacher’s friend, who visited and spoke with her after the assault, described what happened:

She woke up and saw someone at the window. She was afraid: it was a man with a Kalashnikov. He broke the window and said “Don’t make noise or I will kill you. . . . Don’t make noise. You are going out and teaching and going to meetings and acting for women’s rights. You are just a teacher. If you want to go to school, go and come back home, but don’t talk to anyone about women’s rights. Where is your money?”

Other men entered with the first gunman and tied up the woman, searched the house for valuable items, and stole the woman’s jewelry, her friend said.

The friend—herself an advocate on women’s rights—said she and her family had also gotten into trouble because of her activities. Army soldiers under the local commander, Ismatullah, including a sub-commander who she named, attacked her sister’s house on the same night, March 9, she said.

I am sure—although I cannot say it to my sister—that [the attack was] because of me. . . . [M]y sister is a housewife. She doesn’t go to school or go out because she is busy with the children and around the house. Her husband is a poor man. . . . They are not rich that they would attract attention because of their money. They are poor and have nothing, so why else would the soldiers attack them?

The woman’s sister apparently recognized the soldiers from their voices; she said she knew it was the sub-commander and his men because they had earlier come to her house. She tried to hide.

When they attacked, my [relative] took her three-month-old baby and hid herself in the toilet hole. She put her hand over her baby’s mouth when it cried to hide its voice. They were trying to find her everywhere, but they couldn’t find her. They thought she had escaped, so they destroyed everything, including the trunks [where the valuables were locked]. . . . Even her husband thought they had taken his wife, and he went to the mosque and told them that his wife had been taken. . . . An announcement was made from the mosque and . . . after that she came out of the hole to show that she was safe.

She was in the hole from the time they came—for about an hour. It’s a very dirty place! It’s the hole inside the room with the toilet. Her dress was completely filthy, covered with excrement. She was just sitting there, terrified.

U.N. officials confirmed these cases.239

The woman herself said she had received anonymous written threats on at least three occasions:

[The first letter] said, “You should stop your work because you are trying to show other women about their rights. . . .” The second letter said, “You should close the office and not work anymore and not show women equal rights. I will put a bomb in ‘the place where women give birth’ [her words] and finish you if you don’t stop working and close your office.”

“I know you, I know your husband, I know all your children, I know your home. We can come kill you right now. We will explode you with a mine.” This was in the first and second letters—they were the same. The second letter also said, “This is the second time. The third time we will do whatever we want.”

The third set of letters, left at her home in April 2003, warned her not to go out and not to encourage women to go out, she told us.

In late March, someone poisoned the woman advocate’s dog, which her family had bought for security, she said. An apparently sympathetic official under the local governor, Commander Zamon, spoke with the woman and her family, saying, “They have poisoned your dog. You should be careful for yourself.”

A few days later, Ismatullah’s sub-commander himself visited the woman’s house, while she was out, she told us.

[The sub-commander said] that I should close my office or “I will come and kill you and all your children.” He said to my brother-in-law, “Tell you sister-in-law that she should stop work and close her office.” . . . [This sub-commander] is famous and everyone knows him. He is responsible for security of the area.

In April 2003, at a public meeting, the head of the Laghman Law Department, Obidullah, warned the woman that he would not tolerate her in Laghman any longer unless, she reported, “I cease my activities and stop raising women’s voices and stop my activities encouraging women to come out of their homes.”

The woman remained defiant:

This is my duty and as long as I have blood in my body, I will not give up and stop work. I have three daughters and three sons. I am not afraid of anything. These people do not want to give us even the rights in Islam, so how will they be willing to give human rights?

184 For more information on the process of the loya jirga, see Human Rights Watch, “Q & A on Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga Process,” April 17, 2002, available at

185 See Human Rights Watch, “Afghanistan: Return of the Warlords.”

186 Human Rights Watch monitored the loya jirga in Kabul during June 2002. See Human Rights Watch, “Loya Jirga Off to a Shaky Start,” press release, June 13, 2002; Human Rights Watch, “Afghanistan: Analysis of New Cabinet,” press release, June 20, 2002; see also, Saman Zia-Zarifi, “The Warlords Are Plotting a Comeback,” Commentary, International Herald Tribune, June 10, 2002.

187 Human Rights Watch interview with loya jirga commission observer, Kabul, June 16, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with Kabul loya jirga delegate, Kabul, June 16, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with Herat loya jirga delegate, Kabul, June 18, 2002.

188 Human Rights Watch interview with T.M.N., loya jirga delegate, Kabul, October 17, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with A.F.E., Afghan human rights worker, Kabul, March 8, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with G.S.P., former loya jirga candidate, Kabul, March 18, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with D.D.F., resident of Paghman, Kabul, March 18, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with G.J.I., resident of Jalalabad, Kabul, March 29, 2003. Human Rights Watch has reviewed or obtained copies of several petitions delivered to U.N. or Afghan government offices by local residents in several provinces complaining about threats and killings by local military leaders during the loya jirga, including in the provinces of Badahkshan, Kabul, Helmand, Nimroz, and Balkh.

189 Human Rights Watch interview with V.A.H., Kabul, March 22, 2003.

190 Ibid.; Human Rights Watch interview with F.D.N., Kabul, March 22, 2003.

191 The following account, including all quotations, is from a Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed S. in Kabul on March 30, 2003.

192 Human Rights Watch interview with H.O.R., Kabul, February 19, 2003.

193 Ibid.

194 The name of the interviewee has been changed. The following account, including all quotations, is from Human Rights Watch interviews with in H. Rahman Kabul on February 19, March 15, and May 29, 2003.

195 Human Rights Watch interview with G.S.P., former loya jirga candidate, Kabul, March 18, 2003.

196 Human Rights Watch interview with D.D.F., Kabul, March 18, 2003.

197 Human Rights Watch interview with H.W.D., resident of West Kabul, Kabul, March 18, 2003.

198 Ibid.

199 Human Rights Watch interview with D.D.F, Kabul, March 18, 2003.

200 Ibid.

201 Ibid.

202 Name has been changed to protect the victim’s security.

203 Human Rights Watch interview with D.G.H., local NGO official from Jalalabad, Kabul, April 16, 2003.

204 Human Rights Watch interview with K.Y.S., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with I.Y.K., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003.

205 Human Rights Watch interview with I.Y.K., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003.

206 Human Rights Watch interview with D.G.H., local NGO official from Jalalabad, Kabul, April 16, 2003.

207 Human Rights Watch interview with W.G.I., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with K.Y.S., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with I.Y.K., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003.

208 Ibid.

209 Human Rights Watch interview with Z.R.D., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003.

210 Ibid.

211 See Human Rights Watch, “All Our Hopes are Crushed”; and Human Rights Watch, “‘We Want to Live as Humans’: Repression of Women and Girls in Western Afghanistan,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 14, no 11(c), December 2002, available at

212 Human Rights Watch interview with C.D.R., leader of a political party, Kabul, March 17, 2003.


214 Ibid.

215 Human Rights Watch interview with R.G.D., journalist, Gardez, March 9, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with A.R.Z., journalist, March 11, 2003.

216 Ibid.

217 Ibid.

218 Ibid.

219 Ibid.

220 Human Rights Watch interview with R.G.D., journalist, Gardez, March 9, 2003.

221 Ibid.

222 Human Rights Watch interview with S.E.W.K, student, Kabul, May 29, 2003.

223 Ibid.

224 Ibid.

225 Human Rights Watch interview with H.J.R.Q., student, May 29, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with S.E.W.K, student, Kabul, May 29, 2003.

226 Human Rights Watch interview with H.M.L., Jalalabad, May 5, 2003.

227 Ibid.

228 Human Rights Watch interview with W.N., Kabul, May 7, 2003.

229 Human Rights Watch interview with government official, Jalalabad, May 5, 2003.

230 Human Rights Watch interview with women’s rights activist, Jalalabad, May 7, 2003.

231 Ibid.

232 Ibid.

233 Human Rights Watch interview with P.A., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003.

234 Human Rights Watch interview with A.O.W., Afghan journalist, Kabul, April 20, 2003.

235 Ibid.

236 Ibid.

237 Human Rights Watch interview with Z.R.D., local advocate, Jalalabad, May 6, 2003.

238 The following account, including all quotations, is from a Human Rights Watch interview in Kabul on March 30, 2003, with a women with first-hand information about these incidents.

239 Human Rights Watch interview with U.N. officials, Jalalabad, May 7, 2003.

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July 2003