By AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
Women are at the front line in protecting women’s human rights in Afghanistan. They are teachers, doctors, journalists, activists and politicians. Many have been killed or threatened because of their work to protect women’s rights, while some have fled the country. They face intimidation and attacks; some are threatened by their families for daring to speak out. The Taliban see their work as defying culture, religion and accepted role of women in society.
As Australian troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of 2013 the question must be asked, what will happen to the women? Amnesty International spoke to four brave and committed women – some who have paid a high price for their bravery – about the risks they face in championing the rights of women and girls. Here is the second of their stories. (See the first here.) For security reasons, names* have been changed.
Parween, a headmistress from Laghman province, was targeted for running a girls’ school. After receiving repeated threats from unknown men warning her to stop working, her son, Hamayoon, was abducted and killed. Here, she tells Amnesty International her story.
In April 2009 my young son Hamayoon, who was 18 years-old at the time, was kidnapped by unknown men. They are the people who are opposed to the progress and are the enemies of this country. Three days later I received a call from the kidnappers who told me that I could talk to my son for as long as I wanted as this was the last time I would speak to him.
My husband spoke to them and asked them why are you doing this to us? They said ‘because you’re working for the government [running a girls’ school] and for the Americans. Your wife is working, she was a parliamentary candidate, and was awarded the Malalai gold medal by Afghan-Americans. And you still say you have done nothing and ask why we are cruel to you?’
They handed the phone to my son and he asked me to come and take him back home. My son said that the kidnappers had told him to warn your mother and father to stop working otherwise they would face far severe consequences. That was the last time I spoke to my son.
A year and three months later, after heavy rainfall, a flood brought my son’s corpse to a Gardel desert.
His body was caught in a tree. Nomads living close by found his body and contacted the government and police who contacted us. My husband went to the police station and recognised the body as our son’s.
His body was taken to the public health hospital. We received his body from there and buried him.
The hospital gave us the post-mortem report. My son had 12 gunshot wounds to his body. The doctors told us that he had been killed at least three months before.
Before that, when we had been searching for him, we saw some 30 other corpses. My husband and his brothers, other relatives and villagers, whenever they heard that a corpse had been recovered, went rushing to see if it was my son’s body.
We even opened some unknown graves to search for my son’s body. We saw corpses which were half-eaten by animals, rotten bodies, some corpse had ropes around their necks, some had been strangled by strings which were still wrapped around their necks, others had gunshot wounds to their heads and other parts of their bodies. We suffered a lot of torment searching for my son. We are still receiving death threats but we continue with our work.
We registered the kidnapping of my son with all the government agencies, like the police, the National Directorate of Security [Afghanistan’s Intelligence Service]. The NDS said that all the mobile numbers [of the kidnappers] originated from different provinces, like Kabul, Mazar, Laghman, Logar, and were linked to fake ID cards, making it very difficult to trace these people. We don’t have a strong government to investigate and find these people.
I also went to human rights organisations, but no one listened to what we had to say. Nobody cares what is happening to us.
On 21 February 2012, when I was returning home from work by car, they detonated a bomb and my husband received serious wounds to his face and hands. The children and I had a lucky escape and received minor injuries but the car was completely destroyed.
We don’t feel safe anymore now and we don’t know what to do. We have left our house. We are always on the move from one place to another and from one house to another. We are all living in a fear. Whenever there is sound at the front door I get scared that something bad may happen to us. My children are always scared, even in their sleep and while awake. Whenever the kidnappers traced our new mobile number they made threatening phone calls. I don’t know what to do. We are all suffering from mental health problems because of the continuous threats.
My father was a liberal and educated man. He gave us an education and religious lessons and told us that we should work for the progress and prosperity of our country.
If we want we can also leave this place and run away, but this is not our aim. Our main goal is to serve the people of this country by promoting education for children and rebuilding the country.
When my father was dying he took a vow from his children that we would serve the country even if this meant sacrificing our lives. So we are committed to fulfilling our father’s wish and the only way to fight ignorant people is to promote education in this country.”
Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people campaigning to protect human rights. This year Amnesty International is campaigning both in Australia and globally to ensure women and girls in Afghanistan are protected, enjoy their full set of human rights, and are empowered and supported in leading changes in their lives. For information visit http://www.amnesty.org.au/afghanwomen/ or follow us at www.facebook.com/amnestyoz or on twitter @amnestyOz