The CCBE urges the de facto authorities to reinstate the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association and allow all lawyers to practise law freely and without fear of persecution.
Les avocats, et en particulier les avocates, sont en grand danger. Le CCBE exhorte les autorités à rétablir l’Association indépendante du barreau afghan et à permettre à tous les avocats d’exercer librement et sans crainte de persécution.
Wahida Rahimi’s phone never left her side on August 31, 2021. She barely slept, afraid of missing a text message or call. She was so attached to the device that she vowed to never look at it again if she could flee the country safely.
Sixteen days earlier, the Taliban recaptured Kabul.
As the remaining US planes took off, Rahimi’s phone lit up with messages from colleagues asking what to do. She forwarded them screenshots she was receiving from advocates who told her “We’re going to help. Have faith. Be hopeful.” She still has those messages.
Rahimi was one of 270 female judges who were desperately trying to leave Afghanistan. Judges had become targets for the work they did in delivering justice to women in domestic violence cases and for sending the Taliban’s members to jail.
Throughout the tumult, Rahimi remained hopeful. “It was not meant to be the end for me. I’m not going to be a victim. I’m a survivor,” she told Insider.
‘It totally changed their lives’
Up until the last few days of the regime change, Rahimi was still working as a judge in Panjshir province, a mountainous region known for its natural beauty. Her commute took nearly three hours and she had to be accompanied by a driver due to safety concerns. In January 2021, two female Afghan Supreme Court judges were shot and killed in Kabul. Afghan officials blamed the Taliban, but the group denied the accusations.
Rahimi was chosen by the country’s Supreme Court in 2018 to oversee the province’s newly created court of domestic violence and presided over cases ranging from murder to physical abuse.
As August 15 marks one year since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, we again report on the plight of Afghan women. Annette Young talks to Fawzia Aminy, a Supreme Court judge who managed to escape to Britain via Greece within weeks of Kabul falling, and to the woman who helped facilitate her rescue, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, the director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. The two are seeking to help those women left behind.
One year since the Taliban captured power in Afghanistan, conditions for human rights defenders, especially women, have further deteriorated, the undersigned members of Protect Defenders.eu – said today. A year ago, when the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, they promised to respect human rights – including the rights of women and girls and media freedom. However, over the past year, they have carried out serious human rights violations and abuses, and sought to suppress civil society, media freedom, and any form of dissent with complete impunity.
Since 15 August 2021, we have witnessed the steady erosion of human rights gains in Afghanistan and attacks, reprisals, and a failure of any effective protection for human rights defenders in the country. Women and girls, religious and ethnic minorities, those speaking out against violations and for the protection of the rights of the most vulnerable, have been deliberately targeted. This is a pattern of violence that has been met with insufficient action from the international community. Human rights defenders who continue to work for their communities have been effectively abandoned and left without adequate support, access to resources, protection, and pathways to safety.
Human rights defenders have faced near-daily attacks and violent reprisals including arrest, torture, threats and killings since the Taliban takeover. Escalating violence in the provinces has forced a large number of defenders to leave their homes and relocate and/or resettle. Human rights defenders, in particular women human rights defenders have been facing multiple risks and threats by the Taliban, including: kidnapping; arbitrary arrest and imprisonment; torture; physical and psychological harm; house searches; death and physical threats; intimidation and harassment; and violence against their family members. Women human rights defenders have also faced systematic oppression and segregation from public life. They have been stripped of their rights to work, freedom of movement, access to education, and to participate in public affairs. For those seeking to leave Afghanistan due to severe risk, safe and dignified pathways out of the country remain extremely difficult and challenging.
There has also been serious curtailment of freedom of expression and assembly. These freedoms are no longer legally and institutionally protected, and any form of dissent is met with arbitrary arrests and detention and enforced disappearance. Enforced disappearances of women, and arbitrary arrest of journalists and civil society activists are tactics adopted by the Taliban to silence voices that speak out.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has ordered the Commonwealth to drop the prosecution of lawyer Bernard Collaery, four years after he was charged with leaking classified information about Australia’s alleged spying operation in East Timor.
Collaery, a former ACT attorney-general, was facing the prospect of jail and his trial date had finally been set for October 24 in the ACT Supreme Court after years of delays.
“Having regard to our national security, our national interest and the proper administration of justice today, today I have determined that this prosecution should end,” Dreyfus announced at a press conference in Sydney.
Describing the Collaery case as “exceptional”, Dreyfus said his decision was informed by the government’s commitment to its “relationship with our neighbours”.
“All prosecutions involve a balancing of interests. The balance of interests can change over time. This is such a case,” Dreyfus said.
He said the decision did not represent a move away from the longstanding practice of protecting government secrets.
“Governments must protect secrets, and this government remains steadfast in our commitment to keep Australians safe by keeping secrets out of the wrong hands. The long-standing practice of government has been to neither confirm nor deny claims made about intelligence matters and I will strictly adhere to that practice,” he said.
Dreyfus discontinued the prosecution under section 71 of the Judiciary Act, overturning the authorisation that was given by in 2018 by then-attorney-general Christian Porter for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to pursue charges against Collaery and Witness K.
Three men are presently before Australian courts charged with revealing information about the inner-workings of government agencies or the conduct of our armed forces. Such prosecutions say plenty about the lack of protections afforded to whistleblowers – yet what is the price for our democracy? Why a change of government must signal a new approach for Australia’s treatment of whistleblowers.
Right now, three courageous Australians are on trial for telling the truth – for speaking up about wrongdoing perpetrated by our government. The names of these three have become synonymous with whistleblowing in this country. And yet at the time of writing, they remain on trial. For telling the truth.
There are several ways that these undemocratic prosecutions of whistleblowers in Australia might come to an end. It might be that by the time you read this, the new Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus QC, has dropped the prosecutions of Bernard Collaery, David McBride and Richard Boyle. That would be a commendable act. But whatever happens in the weeks and months ahead, a close examination of how we got to this juncture, and what lies ahead, is overdue, for the prosecution of three whistleblowers is a symptom of a wider affliction, rather than the disease itself.
The new Albanese government must act swiftly to treat Australia’s secrecy syndrome. That starts with dropping the three prosecutions, but by no means does it end there.
Let’s start with the prosecutions. Collaery is a distinguished Canberra lawyer and former ACT Attorney-General. Together with his client, Witness K, Collaery was charged in 2018 with secrecy offences. The backdrop to the case is Australia’s espionage against Timor-Leste in the early 2000s, when Australian intelligence officers allegedly bugged the Timor cabinet office to gain an upper-hand in energy negotiations with the newly-independent nation. Witness K pleaded guilty and was given a suspended sentence; Collaery, charged with a greater number of offences (mostly relating to disclosures to ABCjournalists), maintains his innocence.
Collaery has endured four years of interlocutory litigation, predominantly over how much secrecy should shroud his ultimate trial. A trial date has been set for this October, although with several appeals pending, that seems unlikely. The case has to date involved almost a hundred court hearings and over a dozen judgments. Every point has been contested by the Attorney-General of the prior government, including, in one particularly Pythonesque moment, going to the High Court to keep secret a judgment that said no to a secret trial. That judgment, from the ACT Court of Appeal last October, refusing a secret trial, still remains unpublished (although a judgment summary noted “a very real risk of damage to public confidence in the administration of justice” if the trial was held in secret, and the importance of open justice in deterring “political prosecutions”).
I was 14 years old the first time I fled my home in Afghanistan because of the Taliban. That was when it shut down schools for girls in 1996. Two years later, as a refugee in neighboring Pakistan, I started my social justice journey advocating for the rights of girls and working with an Afghan women’s organization.
In 2002 I returned to Afghanistan when the U.S. invasion forced the Taliban from power. I became a lawyer, continued to advocate for women’s rights and built networks of women human rights leaders.
But last August, when the Taliban returned to power, I had to flee again. My work put me in danger. I kissed my beloved parents goodbye, and along with my husband and sons, evacuated to the United States from the chaos of the Hamid Karzai airport amidst gun shots, grenade and tear gas explosions.
Now I’ve resettled in Virginia where I’ve accepted a visiting scholar position at William and Mary Law School. In this role, I will continue to advocate for the rights of women in Afghanistan, thanks to the Sponsor Circle Program for Afghan refugees, established by the U.S. government, the humanitarian organization RefugePoint and others that helped to build it.
The Taliban made me a refugee twice in my life. But many other Afghan women are not as lucky as I have been. They continue their struggle for women’s rights in the face of brutal oppression and the Taliban’s campaign to erase women from Afghan society. The international community must not turn its back on them.
I’m helping a lawyer who was arbitrarily arrested in February of this year. He’s described to me how he was tortured over 16 days by the Taliban: beaten starved, electrocuted. A group of women protesting his arrest were themselves detained, threatened and had their passports confiscated. They are staying silent after seeing how others have been tortured.
The UN special rapporteur has termed these attacks the “collective punishment” of women. But that’s not strong enough. The word genocide was coined to better understand the deliberate and methodical killing and destruction of a group of people. The world needs a new term to capture the Taliban’s master plan to erase women from society.
Two years after successfully defending American actress Amber Heard, a ‘amazing’ Australian human rights lawyer has exposed the horrific threats she still receives.
Jennifer Robinson, well known for defending Julian Assange for a decade, defended Heard in Johnny Depp’s libel case against The Sun in 2020.
Despite the fact that she hasn’t been involved in the celebrity case in years, Ms Robinson is now again facing hateful threats and trolls, with hundreds of Johnny Depp followers bombarding her social media with cruel comments.
In a separate trial last week, a US jury convicted Heard guilty of defaming Depp in an article published in the Washington Post in 2018, in which she claimed to be a victim of domestic abuse.
Depp was awarded a total of $U15million ($A20.9million) in damages, out of a potential $US50million ($A69million), after he won on all three counts of his defamation trial.
Heard was awarded $US2million ($A2.8million) after the jury found a statement made by one of Depp’s lawyers calling her accusations a ‘hoax’ to a British tabloid was defamatory.
Ms Robinson’s situation worsened almost immediately after the verdict was handed down in a Virginia court.
The ACT Supreme Court last week set the date for the trial of Canberra barrister Bernard Collaery for 24 October this year.
ACT Justice David Mossop did this despite the wishes of Collaery and his lawyer Philip Boulton SC, who consider it too early to set a date due to ongoing court battles with the federal attorney general regarding the secrecy measures being applied to the case.
Former ACT attorney general Collaery is facing five charges of conspiring to release classified information, contrary to section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act 2001 (Cth). The offence carried a maximum of 2 years imprisonment at the time that it applies to the lawyer’s case.
Collaery is charged with exposing the Howard government’s 2004 bugging of the Timor Leste cabinet offices. He was made privy to the details, after the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security advised the ASIS officer in charge of the operation, Witness K, to seek his legal advice in 2008.
ASIO raided both men’s Canberra premises in 2013, as K was about to testify at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague about the incident on behalf of Timor Leste, with Collaery providing legal representation. Yet, then attorney general George Brandis chose not to pursue their cases.
Indeed, it wasn’t until after Christian Porter took over the role of the nation’s chief lawmaker, that the prosecution of the pair was greenlighted in mid-2018, with the new AG applying never-before-used secrecy powers to ensure certain parts of the case would remain behind closed doors.
Kafkaesque is mild
The announcement of the trial date comes four years after the charges were laid, and just a week after the ACT Supreme Court refused an application from Collaery to access a number of documents from various government agencies that detail circumstances surrounding the Timor Leste bugging.