Afghan judges in Brazil still fear Taliban

A female judge, Muska, was hiding with her family from newly authorized Taliban militants in Afghanistan when an apparent reading error 7,000 miles away drastically changed her life.

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro opened his country’s doors to potential refugees from the Asian nation during remarks at the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 21.

“We will grant humanitarian visas to Afghan Christians, women, children and judges,” he read on the teleprompter — apparently the last word, mispronouncing “jovens” — young people — in his printed speech as “juizes,” or judges.

Wrong or not, his government complied with that offer.

Muska and her family were taken by bus to the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and then flown to Greece with six female colleagues.

By the end of October, they found themselves in Brazil – a country that has very little in common with Afghanistan beyond their shared love of football.

Speaking to international media for the first time, Muska told The Associated Press this week that she and the other judges still fear retaliation from the Taliban — some members of which had been convicted of various crimes in their courts.

She asked not to use her real name, nor to publish her precise location – at a Brazilian military installation. Her colleagues refused to talk to the news media.

Muska served as a judge for nearly a decade before the Taliban took power in August and said her home in the capital, Kabul, had recently been ransacked.

Afghanistan had about 300 female judges, Muska said, and many are now in hiding and their bank accounts frozen.

“We knew that they (the Taliban) would not let the female judges work. We would have serious threats to our lives,” she said. “They released all the criminals from prison. These were the criminals we convicted.”

The judges who are left behind “are very scared, in hiding. They have serious financial problems, no salary, have lost their jobs, their bank accounts are blocked. They are still in danger,” the judge said. “It is not good in Kabul.”

The Taliban gained widespread support in Afghanistan, in part because the overthrown US-backed government was widely viewed as corrupt.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Speaks At The Opening Ceremony Of Communications Week At The Planalto Palace In Brasilia, Brazil On May 5, 2021. (Reuters)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speaks at the opening ceremony of Communications Week at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil on May 5, 2021. (Reuters)

“But female judges were the bravest, strongest and most honest officials in the previous administration,” said Muska, who said US President Joe Biden’s decision to end the US presence in the country meant she had to leave quickly.

“Everything happened suddenly,” she said.

Judge Renata Gil, the head of the Brazilian Association of Magistrates that sponsors the refugees, said the Afghans arrived “with great fear and still feel threatened”.

“They are being pursued because they have convicted Taliban fighters,” she said, noting that she herself had received death threats “because I have convicted drug dealers. For women, this is much more difficult.”

At the association’s headquarters in the capital, Brasilia, she said: ‘I hope they will be able to lead their lives independently. But as long as they’re needed, we’ll be there to help.”

The judges and their 19 family members — apparently the only Afghan refugees to have come to Brazil since the Taliban returned to power — now have Brazilian bank accounts and health care. Those who can, take lessons in Portuguese.

It is not yet clear what the future holds for them in Brazil, where at least they are protected. But Muska said they would like to return home one day.

“I hope I can join my relatives in Kabul. I have this dream that I am in my house. I miss everything,” said the judge.

Muska hasn’t seen much of Brazil due to security reasons, language problems and her own fears. But she has found people with empathy for her situation.

“They cry with us, we know they can feel our feelings,” the judge said with tears in her eyes.

Muska’s three children, including a toddler, are also having a hard time adjusting. The judge used to have her parents and nannies to help, but in Brazil she is largely on her own, worrying about her future and theirs.

The kids look happy and energetic as they run and jump on a public playground and talk to Dari. But the judge said her oldest daughter has questions she can’t answer.

“She always asks about my parents, her friends, her cousins,” Muska said. “She always asks us questions about the Taliban, whether they want to kill us.”

Despite the difficulties, Muska said she believes the future will be brighter for her children than for those still in Afghanistan.

“I have hope for them. That they have their studies in a good situation, in a good education system,” she said. “They will have their choice of what to do.”

Read more:

Taliban release decree that says women must consent to marriage

Afghan banking system in danger of collapse, costs could be ‘colossal’: UN report

ISIS in Afghanistan ‘under control’: Taliban

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