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‘It’s worse than we could imagine’: Afghan judges fear for their lives – as UK urged to protect them

Written by on 20/08/2021

Any sense of law and order in Afghanistan is now according to Taliban rules.

As the Taliban swept Afghanistan taking control, jails have been broken open and prisoners released.

Those members of the judiciary who worked under the now fallen government are fearing for their lives. Many judges and prosecutors who convicted Taliban fighters and criminals are now desperately trying to seek asylum elsewhere.

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Taliban march in uniform on Afghan independence day

One former public prosecutor spoke to Sky News from hiding in Afghanistan. His interview was translated for us through his university student son – we’re protecting their identities and not using their names.

“He’s scared not only for himself but also for his family because the situation is worse than we could imagine,” his son translates to me.

“In the past five months the Taliban have executed those who worked in the judiciary, those who prosecuted in the past.

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“He was also working in counter-narcotics in Afghanistan so it’s a bit threatening to him that the Taliban is looking for people. There’s reports that they’re searching house by house in Afghanistan for those who worked against them or worked with the government.”

From hiding, they are applying online to countries for asylum and are too afraid to go outside. Others in the same position are said to be frantically burning evidence of their past work.

In January, two female judges working for the Afghan Supreme Court were shot dead in Kabul – ambushed by gunmen on a motorbike. Their deaths came amid a wave of assassinations of prominent Afghans.

Taliban fighters patrol Kabul on Thursday. Pic: AP
Image: Taliban fighters patrol Kabul on Thursday. Pic: AP

Amid reports the Taliban is now searching communities for former government workers – there’s great concern members of the judiciary would be top of any Taliban hit list with female judges most at risk.

The Bar Council and the Law Society of England and Wales have issued a joint statement voicing their grave concern and calling on the government not to abandon Afghanistan’s legal professionals.

They voice particular worry for the country’s 250 female judges and are urging the UK to offer them safe evacuation and asylum.

Chair of the Bar Council Derek Sweeting QC told Sky News they are being contacted by Afghan judges and prosecutors desperate for help.

“We are hearing from some people who are terrified and feel that they’ve got good reason to be as well,” he said.

“These are people who’ve already put their lives on the line for the last two decades protecting the rule of law and trying to modernise the justice system in the interests of Afghanistan and its society as a whole.

“It’s a real risk and it’s disappointing we’re not in a position to do more to ensure that they’re safe.”

Mr Sweeting added: “Most government officials are going to be worried.

“There is evidence in the past, this year for example, judges in particular have already been targeted by Taliban assassins. That’s a real reason for thinking they may well have judges in their sights.”

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It’s still very unclear what the future of a Taliban controlled Afghanistan will look like this time and if the judiciary could play a part. Many members of the legal profession in the country don’t want to wait and take the risk.

However, even if they’re now granted asylum, getting out of the country remains fraught with challenges and potential danger.

 Sky News

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