Tue, May 16, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Female Afghan lawmaker facing new death threats


A young female Afghan lawmaker who called powerful tribal leaders "criminals" two years ago and who last week in parliament complained there are warlords among its members now sleeps in a different house every night after a fresh influx of death threats.

Malalai Joya, 28, says her mission is to improve women's rights and expose criminal lawmakers in Afghanistan. She says she will continue to speak out despite any danger.

Joya received worldwide attention after first making comments against former warlords at Afghanistan's constitutional council in December 2003. Last week, she was given her first extended chance to speak in parliament since being elected in October, she said.

"I thought it's good to expose warlords, even in the national house," the 28-year-old lawmaker told reporters in an interview on Saturday. "When I came into parliament they understood I was this person that I was two years before."

After her speech last Sunday, a former mujahidin leader named Alam Khan Ezadi stood up and asked the parliament leader why he allowed someone to insult the mujahidin, "who sacrificed their lives to defeat the Soviets, to defeat terrorism."

Then other former mujahidin leaders -- many of whom are accused of committing human rights abuses against Afghan civilians -- started shouting and walked out. A few lawmakers threw plastic water bottles at Joya, and a small scuffle broke out between her supporters and detractors.

No one was hurt, but Joya said deep insults were shouted at her.

"They said, `We will rape her.' They said that in parliament," she said.

She said she overheard other mujahidin lawmakers saying the outcry -- which she suspects was planned, given that she had never been allowed to speak before -- would prevent anyone from speaking out against former warlords in parliament again.

Ezadi, a former mujahidin leader from Mazar-e-Sharif, denied that anyone in parliament said Joya should be raped or that any sort of insult was shouted at her. But he said the walkout was warranted.

"We are worrying about the unity of the national house because all the time she is blowing on the head of the unity in parliament," he told reporters.

He said that no mujahidin have ever threatened Joya with death.

"We are Muslim. We never want to kill anyone, to have blood on our hands," he said.

Nevertheless, Joya said she can't keep track of the number of death threats she's received since her first speech to the constitutional council in 2003, but that several new ones were called in to her office last week.

A diminutive women only about 160cm tall, Joya also speaks passionately about women's rights. She says she wonders why no one else in the country will talk about the past crimes of warlords or the current crimes committed against women.

"They know very well I will never be silent. I will never be afraid," she said. "We will all die someday."

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