Afghan parliament suspends outspoken female lawmaker after critical TV interview

Joya said Monday that if she could not remain in the parliament, she would fight against "criminals" independently.

The International Herald Tribune , May 21, 2007

Malalai Joya in Press Conference in Kabul on May 21
Malalai Joya, in a press conference in Kabul on May 21, 2007 vows to continue her fight against warlords. (AP photo)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP): Afghanistan's lower parliamentary house voted Monday to suspend an outspoken female lawmaker, who has enraged former mujahedeen fighters now in President Hamid Karzai's U.S.-backed government.

The lawmaker, Malalai Joya, 29, said in a recent interview with private Afghan station Tolo TV that the country's parliament was like a "stable or zoo."

"This is a word that fits — a cattle house is full of animals, like a cow giving milk, a donkey carrying something, a dog that's loyal," Joya said.

The video was shown in the legislature Monday, and angry lawmakers voted to suspend her, said parliamentary spokesman Haseb Noori.

No formal vote count was held, but a clear majority of lawmakers voted to suspend her for the rest of her five-year term by raising colored cards, Noori said.

Parliament's Article 70 forbids lawmakers from insulting one another, Noori said.

Joya, elected in 2005, said the vote was a "political conspiracy" and that she had been told Article 70 was written specifically for her. She did not say who told her.

"Since I've started my struggle for human rights in Afghanistan, for women's rights, these criminals, these drug smugglers, they've stood against me from the first time I raised my voice at the Loya Jirga," she said, referring to the constitution-drafting constitution held several years ago.

Lower house speaker Yunus Qanooni told lawmakers that Joya's case would be introduced to "the court," without elaborating. When lawmakers asked why, Qanooni said, "If there is any issue, the court will explain it."

It was not immediately clear if a court could overturn Joya's suspension.

Joya, a women's rights campaigner from Farah province, rose to prominence in 2003 when she branded powerful Afghan warlords as criminals during the Loya Jirga.

Many commanders who fought occupying Soviet troops in the 1980s still control provincial fiefdoms, and have been accused of human rights abuses and corruption.

After ousting the Soviets, the militias turned on each other in a brutal civil war that destroyed most of the capital, Kabul.

Some faction leaders, like former President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a deeply conservative Islamist, have been elected as lawmakers. Others, like northern strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum, were appointed to the government by Karzai.

Sayed Alami Balkhi, a lawmaker from the northern province of Balkh, said the speaker of the upper house had sent the lower house a letter Sunday, saying Joya had humiliated and attacked both houses.

"If the lower house does not take a decision about her, we will take a decision," Balkhi quoted the letter as saying.

Joya's outspoken ways have earned her many enemies in Afghanistan. In February, during a rally to support a proposed amnesty for Afghans suspected of war crimes, thousands of former fighters shouted "Death to Malalai Joya!"

Last May, Joya called some lawmakers "warlords" in a parliamentary speech, prompting some lawmakers to throw water bottles at her. A minor scuffle broke out between her supporters and detractors, and Joya later said some legislators had threatened to rape her as payback.

Joya said Monday that if she could not remain in the parliament, she would fight against "criminals" independently.

She said if anything were to happen to her — a reference to a possible assassination attempt — that "everyone would know" that people she has criticized would be responsible.

"I'm not alone," she told reporters. "The international community is with me and all the Afghan people are with me."