Zahra Haidari is building a new life for her family, writes Shane Phelan
Within days of the Taliban seizing control of her province, a death squad arrived at the home of Judge Zahra Haidari.
She already knew of four colleagues who had been murdered by the Islamist militant group. Now they were coming for her.
Judge Haidari served in a provincial court division in Afghanistan which handled crimes against public security and corruption.
The Taliban knew her well. Her court was responsible for jailing some of its members, as well as criminals affiliated with Isis.
Unlike in Ireland, where the judiciary is drawn from lawyers with several years of experience, many Afghan judges are appointed after doing post-graduate training courses.
So, although just 29, Judge Haidari found herself dealing with the most serious of offences, such as terrorism, assassination, drug trafficking and embezzlement. She was the first woman appointed to that division of the court.
As the Taliban swept across the country, culminating in the fall of Kabul last August, they opened the jails and set the prisoners free.
Luckily, a pregnant Judge Haidari had already fled and was in hiding by the time the armed men came looking for her at her home.
“I had to hide. They were searching for female judges so they could kill them and get revenge. It was terrifying,” she told the Irish Independent.
Judge Haidari is now in Dublin, one of ten female Afghan judges given asylum.
Her husband was evacuated with her too and she will soon give birth. They had to leave loved ones behind and live in fear for the safety of relatives.
She and the other female judges were able to leave Afghanistan with the help of the International Association of Women Judges and the International Bar Association.
Since arriving in Ireland they have had the support of the Irish Justice Community Afghan Appeal, a coalition of bodies including the Association of Judges, the Bar of Ireland, Irish Rule of Law International and the Law Society.
It has raised €50,000 to assist with health, education and other costs. Homes have been provided by members of the legal profession and with the assistance of the Red Cross and the Irish Refugee Protection Programme. The appeal is still seeking donations, offers of property and assistance.
Judge Haidari spent around 20 days in hiding in her home city. She knew she had to get out.
“Our meetings were shown on television so my face was well known to the Taliban,” she said.
The International Bar Association helped evacuate her to a city in another province, where she wasn’t known, and she hid out there for a further month before a charter flight was allowed take off from the local airport. They arrived in Greece before travelling on to Ireland.
“I covered my face in the airport. I wore a burqa. The Taliban were checking,” she said.
“There was one member of the Taliban who asked me what was my job. I said I was a housewife. It was so scary. There were too many checks.”
Judge Haidari was part of a growing number of women who were able to overcome backwards views on the education of women in Afghanistan.
But such progress has been set to nought since the Taliban takeover.
“Being a judge was a hard job, but I liked it,” she said.
“In Afghanistan it has always been very difficult for women to be educated. Not just in my field, but every field.”
“And now, as you know, the Taliban say it is impermissible for a woman to be a judge.”
A similar journey to Ireland was made by her colleague Judge Feroza Hashemi (30), who is now at an asylum centre in Co Waterford with her husband and two young children.
Judge Hashemi summed up the anarchy by citing the case of a weapons smuggler who was jailed for ten years just as the Taliban was sweeping to power.
“The morning after we put him in jail they freed him,” she said.
“After the government fell, the aim of the Taliban was to kill judges.
“They came to my compound looking for me and for guns but I was gone into hiding by that stage.”
Judge Hashemi also had to run the gauntlet of the Taliban at the airport, concealing her profession as a judge.
“I was terrified. It was very scary. I hid who I was. I had to leave behind documents. I said I was just going visiting [abroad]. It was very difficult,” she said.
Many of her relatives managed to flee the country as well and are now in a refugee camp in Abu Dhabi.
“It was very difficult when I left them behind. My biggest dream at the moment is that they can come and join me here,” she said.
Both judges expressed thanks to the Irish government and to the legal community here.
Judge Haidari said she hoped to retrain so she could work in the law in Ireland.
“I went through too many difficulties in Afghanistan to get into this field. I don’t want to lose it.”
Judge Hashemi said she too was keen to make a contribution to Irish society and “be a positive person in the community”.