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Former female judge in Afghanistan still in hiding over two years later: “Our family lives deteriorate with each day that passes”

To the decision makers, I say, “I do not need your sympathy. I need your action. Please, help us now!” I fear that by the time help arrives, it could be too late. I speak now because I want to live; I need justice – the same justice I stood for as a female judge in Afghanistan.

  • 7 months ago
  • November 12, 2023
9 min read
Taliban fighters in a captured Humvee after the Fall of Kabul in August 2021 | Photo courtesy of Voice of America News on Wikimedia Taliban fighters in a captured Humvee after the Fall of Kabul in August 2021 | Photo courtesy of Voice of America News on Wikimedia
Woman in the shadows. Anonymous photo.
Interview Subject
Orato World Media has granted anonymity to the story subject due to the threat on her life if she speaks out. The journalist assigned to this piece interviewed the former judge through WhatsApp with Marzia Babakarkhail serving as the interpreter. It was midnight in Afghanistan. Throughout the interview, the subject’s voice cracked as she struggled to put into words the horrible experience she has faced since the Taliban took over and she lost her freedom. The journalist has verified the veracity of this piece.
BAckground Information
Marzia Babakarkhail is a former Afghani judge who has also been featured in a story by Orato. Marzia endured two Taliban assassination attempts, fled to Pakistan, and then to the United Kingdom, where she eventually obtained asylum status and citizenship. Marzia has become the international voice for the female judges of Afghanistan, working together with NGOs and governments around the globe to resettle them in foreign countries since 2021. Marzia often interviews with international media outlets on the topic. When she was in her country, she launched an NGO called the Afghan Women Social and Cultural Organization to shelter divorced women and their children and served as a member of the Board and Chairperson of the Women’s Committee of the Afghan NGO’s Coordination Bureau (ANCB). In 2017 in the U.K., she won the Fusion Woman of the Year Award, was nominated for a pride award in Oldham, was shortlisted for a Northern Powerhouse Women’s Award as an outstanding mentor, and for a True Honour Award in March 2023. Her work has helped to contribute to the relocation of many of the 270 female judges. Today, 49 remain in Afghanistan and 21 in Pakistan.
Marzia says, “Sadly, during the last couple of years, there have been some empty promises and false hope when it comes to the remaining female judges in Afghanistan. I think some entities will support the female judges’ evacuation, but I hope that action will not be for publicity or to gain fame. I hope the commitment is authentic and from the heart. These are women’s lives on the line; women I speak to every single day. We must take resettlement seriously and we must act swiftly.”  

KABUL, Afghanistan ꟷ On August 15, 2021, the Taliban overthrew Kabul and turned my life into chaos. I worked hard for years to become a female judge in Afghanistan and on the day the Taliban took over, it marked the end of my life as I knew it. At that time, about 270 Afghani women served as judges in the courts. Now, only 49 of us remain in our homeland. The rest have been resettled in other countries, and 21 await news of relocation in Pakistan.

Today, I feel like a bird in a cage. I have nothing left. My savings is gone, and my mental health has fallen apart. When I eat, I cry. When I go to bed at night, I cry. Once a successful professional woman who felt respected by her family and society, today I take medication just get a few hours of sleep each night. I feel like a mad woman, desperate for help.

Read more stories about people affected by the Taliban at Orato World Media.

Two years and three months ago, I said goodbye to my life as a judge

As a woman who once lived free, the unbearable pressure of being trapped in my home in Kabul weighs heavily upon me. Our small house brims with people including my husband, his second wife, her five children, and her mother. He tries to support us financially, but we all pay the price for my former work as a female judge – work that made us a target.

When I was a judge, my husband respected me. I added income to the house and held an esteemed position in society. The reverence he once felt has since vanished and this prison of a home leaves me listless, sensitive, and angry.

When I look out of the window into the streets of Kabul now, my memories of the Taliban takeover remain fresh in my mind. The day before they arrived, I climbed into a taxi and went to work as usual, but things seemed off. News had reached us about the progress of the Taliban’s campaign and an invasion of the city felt imminent. I went to work anyway.

The quiet and empty streets whispered what was to come. The only people I saw carried a heavy burden of stress on their shoulders and darkness loomed over Kabul. As I walked into the office, the absence of people and activity felt stark. The two cleaners were the only ones there and even they looked terrified. The gravity of the situation struck me, and I began to wonder, “Will the Taliban capture me here? Will this be my end?”

Afraid and on the run in Kabul

Despite my fear, I needed to say goodbye; that office represented my entire life’s work. As I looked around, I gathered myself, realizing I mustn’t stay long. Gazing down at the table, I saw my prized lawbook. I picked it up in my hands as tears began to stream down my cheeks. A well of hopelessness opened inside of me and I left. That was 27 months ago.

When the Taliban swept into Kabul, their rapid occupation felt decisive. The very next day, they removed all the female judges of Afghanistan from their seats. Clearly, we were a priority. In a matter of seconds, I lost my livelihood and my freedom. I tried to stay in my home, but when the Taliban released many of the prisoners we put away, the threat on our lives doubled. It felt as if a dangerous alarm was blaring in my mind, and I needed to run.

Swiftly, the Taliban began searching the houses of the female judges. Two days after the takeover, I packed some clothes, slid into a burka, and escaped to a friend’s house. The previous government, before the Taliban took over, had given the judges guns to protect themselves and I held onto mine. Then, one day, my phone rang. The voice of a Taliban terrorist identified me and demanded I bring the gun back. By then, they had accessed the central database with our names and information.

He asked if I was a judge and called me by name. “No, I am not her,” I answered fearfully. After three such calls, I got rid of the phone and went into hiding. The 49 of us left behind have moved around Kabul and the small villages outside of the city. We are never safe.

A secret group on WhatsApp is our only remaining comfort

For over two years now, I watched as many of the 270 female judges made it out of Afghanistan with the help of NGOs and foreign governments. The 49 of us who remain plead for help constantly. We apply for asylum in Canada, Germany, Australia, England, and the United States. For me personally, I applied online to Canada but got no acknowledgement back from the government.

My brother lives in Australia and sponsored me. I had four interviews with the solicitor, but the complicated process leaves me waiting. In January 2021, the Taliban shot two of my colleagues dead in the street and I fear the same fate. Depression settles over me like a heavy blanket.

When I lost my freedom, it felt like I went blind. I have no access to information anymore. When the 49 of us do hear back on our applications to move to other countries, there is often no way for us to respond. They do not give us the option to write emails back or return phone calls. The only vestige of peace we have is our connection to one another.

The judges have a WhatsApp group where we can talk and share information. Marzia Babakarkhail, the judge who fled to the United Kingdom and obtained citizenship after the last Taliban takeover, acts like a mentor to us. She understands our plight. Marzia is like a mother, a sister, and a friend.

I do not need your sympathy; I need your action

Staying connected to Marzia and the judges is my only life now. I sacrifice buying food so I can keep my mobile phone active. I check my messages and emails day and night. Marzia tells our stories to the world, but we need the governments to hear our voices.

To the decision makers, I say, “I do not need your sympathy. I need your action. Please, help us now!” I fear that by the time help arrives, it could be too late. I speak now because I want to live; I need justice – the same justice I stood for as a female judge in Afghanistan.

If I could leave Afghanistan today and take my family with me, I could finally live again. Every minute of every day of my life now is filled with nothing. My family sacrificed everything because of my work. My husband is jobless, and the children cannot go to school or get an education.

Some of the women judges have been divorced by their husbands or face increased domestic violence. Being trapped here has consequences beyond the Taliban rule. Our family lives deteriorate with each day that passes without solutions. We need to breathe; we need a life outside of these walls. I beg the NGOs and the foreign governments to remember us and to help us resettle. Each day pushes me further down this dark hole of depression and I feel it is swallowing me. 

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.

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