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Judges hunted by convicted murderers

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They were the trailblazers of women’s rights in Afghanistan. They were the staunch defenders of the law, seeking justice for their country’s most marginalized.

But now, more than 220 female Afghan judges are in hiding due to fear of retribution under Taliban rule. Six former female judges spoke to the BBC from secret locations across Afghanistan. All of their names have been changed for their safety.

Throughout her career as a judge, Masooma has convicted hundreds of men for violence against women, including rape, murder and torture.

But just days after the Taliban took control of her city and thousands of convicted criminals were released from prison, the death threats began.

Text messages, voice notes and unknown numbers began bombarding her phone.

“It was midnight when we heard the Taliban had freed all the prisoners from jail,” says Masooma.

“Immediately we fled. We left our home and everything behind.”

In the past 20 years, 270 women have sat as judges in Afghanistan. As some of the most powerful and prominent women in the country, they are known public figures.

“Travelling by car out of the city, I wore a burka, so no-one would recognise me. Fortunately, we made it past all the Taliban checkpoints.”

Shortly after they left, her neighbours texted her to say several members of the Taliban had arrived at her old house.

Masooma says that as soon as they described the men, she knew who was looking for her.

Several months ago, prior to the Taliban takeover, Masooma was ruling over a case investigating a member of the group for brutally murdering his wife.

Upon finding him guilty, Masooma sentenced the man to 20 years in prison.

“I can still see the image of that young woman in my mind. It was a brutal crime,” says Masooma.

“After the case was over, the criminal approached me and said: ‘When I get out of prison, I will do to you what I did to my wife.’

“At the time I didn’t take him seriously. But since the Taliban took power, he has called me many times and said he has taken all of my information from the court offices.

“He told me: ‘I will find you and have my revenge.” BBC

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