Published on 10 Oct 2011 at 10:46
Semin Barakzai, whose election to Parliament from Herat was voided by the Independent Election Commission in August, has been on a hunger strike since October 2. She has appealed for a review of her case, and has said she will neither eat nor drink until the government reacts. At this point, Barakzai is in critical condition, and the long-standing conflict between the legislature and the executive looks set to deepen further.
Weak and pale, Semin Barakzai spoke with difficulty from a tent she has installed near the entrance to Parliament. After nine days of refusing food and drink, her kidneys are failing and her family is worried. But she says she will not abandon her protest until she achieves her goal: her reinstatement as Member of Parliament (MP).
“Either my appeal will be accepted by the appropriate national and international entities or I will end my life,” she said. Barakzai added that her sole aim was “to ensure justice.”
Semin's "Hunger Strike Tent".
Barakzai is one of nine MPs who were removed from the legislature by a decision of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) in August. The decision was designed to bring to an end a crisis that has been brewing for a year – ever since the Parliamentary election in September, 2010.
Numerous allegations of fraud and voter intimidation dogged the winners of the election; the electoral bodies investigated thousands of complaints, and results were not finalized until the end of October. But even then, there was no agreement on the final roster; President Hamid Karzai established a Special Court to adjudicate allegations of fraud that continued its work even after the Parliament was inaugurated in January.
In June, the Special Court rendered its ruling, according to which 62 MPs were to be expelled. This kicked off a summer of protest; in the end, Karzai gave the IEC the authority to make the final decision. On August 21, it named nine MPs who were to be replaced; Barakzai was among them.
Now Barakzai has given a list of conditions for ending her hunger strike: she wants the electoral files of all nine disqualified MPs reopened and reinvestigated; she wants a detailed explanation of why they were removed and replaced; and she wants the nine newly-installed MPs to be barred from the legislature until all cases are fully adjudicated.
Semin with her children on second day of hunger strike
Barakzai has written an open letter to President Karzai, in which she alleged that personal considerations had played a role in her ouster: “The IEC removed my name because the candidate who replaced me is friend of your wife and often comes to your home,” she wrote.
The president was among a group of officials who visited Barakzai’s tent in recent days.
Vice President Karim Khalili and National Security Advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta were also among those whom visited the tent. Karzai reportedly told Barakzai on Thursday, October 6, that he would consult with the Supreme Court to find a solution to her case. He promised a decision by Saturday, October 8. But according to Barakzai’s husband, Mohammad Barakzai, nothing has been done as yet.
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the Parliamentary Rule of Law Coalition, health officials and family members all express concern for Barakzai’s health.
Shakila Hashmi, an MP from Logar province who is nursing Barakzai, said that she hopes the president will consider the appeal.
Barakzai has three children. Her eldest daughter, 13, was so upset by her mother’s predicament that she lost consciousness and was admitted to hospital.
Mohammad, Semin's husband on 8th day of the hunger strike
Barakzai’s husband and brother, who are with her in her tent, are both very upset.
“The government is not considering our appeal, so we are not appealing to the government any more,” said Mohammad Barakzai. “Semin would have not been in this critical condition if the government had considered her request.”
Her brother asked the appropriate bodies to reopen Barakzai’s case.
“We ask international entities to re-open her election file,” he said. “Why isn’t she jailed if she has done something wrong? If she has done nothing wrong, then why is she being treated in this cruel and unjust manner?”
On Wednesday, October 5, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Parliamentary Coalition for the Rule of Law, issued separate statements and called Barakzai’s health condition “critical”.
Characterizing her hunger strike as “civil and legal”, the Human Rights Commission asked the IEC and the president’s office to take her appeals into account and adopt “prompt measures” in this regard.
“Either my appeal will be accepted by the appropriate national and international entities or I will end my life."
The Parliamentary Coalition for the Rule of Law, which counts Barakzai as a member, asked that the United Nations, international courts and women’s advocacy organizations come to Kabul to investigate.
“Semin’s strong and active position against the executive branch’s flouting of the law has made her into a martyr,” said the Coalition in its statement.
Last Thursday, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) issued a statement explaining its concerns about Barakzai’s health.
In its statement, FEFA said that it supported “civil protests” and asked the appropriate officials to take this protest into account.
On Thursday, Asadullah Sadaati, a spokesperson for the Coalition for the Rule of Law told the media that Semin’s kidneys had failed and that she had been taken to hospital.
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