Afghanistan: Reinstate MP Suspended for ‘Insult’

May. 24, 2007

(New York, May 23, 2007) The Afghan parliament should immediately
reinstate Malalai Joya, a member suspended for criticizing colleagues, and
revise parliamentary procedures that restrict freedom of speech, Human
Rights Watch said today.

On May 21, 2007, the Lower House of the Afghan parliament voted to
suspend Joya for comments she made during a television interview the
previous day. It is unclear whether Joya’s suspension will run until the
current parliamentary session ends in several weeks or whether she will be
suspended for the remainder of her term in office, which ends in 2009. In
addition to her suspension from parliament, several legislators have said
that Joya could be sued for contempt in a court of law.

“Malalai Joya is a staunch defender of human rights and a powerful voice
for Afghan women, and she shouldn’t have been suspended from
parliament,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Joya’s comments don’t warrant the punishment she received and they
certainly don’t warrant court proceedings.”

Joya had criticized the parliament for failing to accomplish enough for the
Afghan people, saying, “A stable or a zoo is better [than the legislature], at
least there you have a donkey that carries a load and a cow that provides
milk. This parliament is worse than a stable or a zoo.”

On May 22, a recorded version of Joya’s interview was shown during a
session of parliament. Afterward, a majority of her colleagues found her
guilty of violating article 70 of the Afghan legislature’s rules of procedure,
which forbids lawmakers from criticizing one another. Joya’s specific
crime was “insulting the institution of parliament.”

Human Rights Watch noted that members of parliament have regularly
criticized each other, but no one else has been suspended.

“The article banning criticism of parliament is an unreasonable rule that
violates the principle of free speech enshrined in international law and
valued around the world,” said Adams. “The Afghan parliament should be
setting an example by promoting and protecting free expression, not by
stamping it out.”

Human Rights Watch urged the Afghan parliament to take steps to revise
article 70 and ensure that elected representatives can speak freely without
fear of suspension or lawsuits.

Joya, 28, is the youngest member of the Afghan legislature. As a 19-year-
old refugee in Pakistan, she taught literacy courses to other Afghan
women. During the Taliban years, she ran an orphanage and health clinic
in Afghanistan. In 2003, she gained international attention for speaking
out publicly against warlords involved in drafting the Afghan Constitution.
Two years later, she was the top vote-getter from Farah province in
Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections, and was easily elected to the lower
house of the legislature.

Since her election, Joya has continued to be an outspoken defender and
promoter of the rights of Afghan women and children. She has also
continued to publicly call for accountability for war crimes, even those
perpetrated by fellow parliamentarians.

Joya has survived four assassination attempts, travels with armed guards
and reportedly never spends two nights in the same place.

“Joya is an inspiring example of courage,” said Adams. “Afghanistan’s
international friends should not hesitate to speak out in her defense.”

For more of Human Rights Watch’s work on Afghanistan, please visit:

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