'Situation is like hell'

Joya has been a controversial figure since she launched an offensive on MPs she labelled as "warlords, criminals and drug traffickers."

Vancouver 24 HOURS, October 26, 2007
By IRWIN LOY

Joya in NDP Convention
Joya's speech in the NDP convention in Sep.2006 was responded by the audience warmly.

Malalai Joya rattled off the names, barely pausing to punctuate her thoughts.

- A five-year-old child, kidnapped and raped.
- A grandmother, raped.
- An 18-year-old who chose to hang herself rather than be wed to a man 40 years her senior.
- A woman who locked herself in a barn and lit it on fire.

For the outspoken Afghan politician, the misery adds up to one thing.

"It should be clear what's going on for women in Afghanistan," Joya told 24 hours in a phone interview this week. "The situation is like hell."

Joya's words were muffled over the crackly phone line from her hotel room in Washington, D.C.

But her enemies have had difficulty silencing her.

"Inside parliament, they physically beat me by throwing bottles of water and they threatened me with rape," she said. "Today I received many more threats, even when I'm not in Afghanistan."

OUTSPOKEN

Joya has been a controversial figure since she launched an offensive on MPs she labelled as "warlords, criminals and drug traffickers."

In the invasion of Afghanistan that followed the World Trade Centre attack in 2001, U.S. led forces turned to a group known in the west as the Northern Alliance to fight the ruling Taliban.

When the Taliban were ousted from power, it was the Northern Alliance that gained political favour, assuming key positions in the government of Afghan president Hamid Karzai. But when it comes to human rights, Joya says there's little difference between the two groups.

"When the entire nation is living under the shadow of warlords and drug lords," she said, "how is it possible to live in democracy?"

It's comments like these that have made Joya a target.

DANGEROUS WORLD

Today, Joya has gone into hiding. Bodyguards surround her. She travels from house to house in secret, afraid to spend more than a couple of days in the same location. She is married, but can't live with her husband for fear over his safety.

The last time she saw him was more than two months ago, but she is reluctant to talk about her personal life.

"You know, it's not important," she said, her voice softening. "I want to be with my family, I want to live with my husband. I am young; I have lots of hopes for the future of my country.

"But these are personal issues, and I sacrifice all of my personal life for women's rights, democracy, human rights."

CANADA'S ROLE?

The last time Joya stepped foot on Canadian soil, she was the prized speaker at a national NDP convention, where she supported a resolution to withdraw Canadian troops from her country.

She's been controversially expelled from the Afghan national assembly, but her opinions haven't wavered.

Foreign troops in Afghanistan, she says, are not helping.

"No nation can donate liberation to another nation," she said. "These past six years are a clear example.

"You have troops there," she said of Canada's military presence. "I am sending my condolences on behalf of our people to those mothers who lost their dearest in Afghanistan."

Asked what will happen if the foreign military withdrew from Afghanistan, and Joya is sure of her answer.

"Civil war," she said.

But if the troops remain?

"If the U.S. and its allies continue to support the Northern Alliance, tomorrow another 11th of September will happen," Joya said.

"Our only hope is other countries like Canada will act independently and support freedom-loving democratic parties in Afghanistan."

RALLY FOR SUPPORT

- Malalai Joya speaks tomorrow at a rally demanding the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan. It starts at noon in front of Waterfront Station. The rally is at 2 p.m. in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. See stopwar.ca for more info.


Joya in NDP Convention
Jack Layton, Stephen Lewis and Malalai Joya in the NDP convention (September 2006).