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Women judges who fled Taliban reached Brazil due to serendipitous translation error

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Muska [not her real name], a judge, was hiding with her family from the Taliban after they forcibly regained power in Afghanistan. But an apparent translation mistake over 11,000 km away helped her to dramatically change her life.

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

Muska escaped from Afghanistan’s radical regime, which persecutes female professionals in particular. (photo internet reproduction)

“We will grant humanitarian visas to Afghan Christians, women, children and judges,” Bolsonaro said while reading from the teleprompter.

But apparently there was a mix-up regarding the last word, which was “jovens” (youths, in Portuguese) in his printed speech, not “juizes” (judges).

In any case, mistake or otherwise, his government honored its offer.

Muska and her family were taken by bus to the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, from where they flew to Greece with 6 other women judges. By late October they reached Brazil, a country with very little in common with Afghanistan other than its love of soccer.


In her first interview with international media, Muska told The Associated Press this week that she and the other women judges are still afraid of reprisals from the Taliban. Some of the extremist regime’s officials were convicted of several crimes in their courts.

She asked that her real name and precise location, at a Brazilian military facility, not be published. Her colleagues refused to speak to the press.

Muska worked as a judge for nearly 10 years before the Taliban seized power in August and said her home in the capital, Kabul, had recently been searched.

There were about 300 women judges in Afghanistan, she said. Many are in hiding and their bank accounts have been blocked.

“We knew they (the Taliban) would not allow women judges to work. Our lives would be under serious threat,” she said. “They released all criminals from jail. Those were the criminals we sentenced,” she recounted.

Those who are still there “are very scared, in hiding, in the midst of repression by the extremist Islamic regime, which particularly restricts women’s rights.”

“The judges are in dire financial trouble, they have no salary, they have lost their jobs and their bank accounts are blocked. They are still in danger,” she added from her new home in Brazil. “The situation in Kabul is not good,” she noted.

The Taliban gained widespread support in the country partly because the ousted U.S.-backed government was widely regarded as corrupt.

“But female judges were the bravest, strongest and most honest officials in the former government,” Muska said, adding that Washington’s decision to end its military presence in the country meant they had to leave quickly. “It all happened suddenly,” she said.


Brazilian Magistrates Association chairwoman Judge Renata Gil, who sponsors the refugees, said the Afghans came “very scared, still feeling threatened.”

“They are being persecuted because they convicted Taliban fighters,” she explained. She noted that she herself has received death threats because she convicted drug traffickers. “For women this is much more difficult,” she lamented.

“I hope they can live their lives independently. But as long as they need it, we will be here to help,” she added at the Association’s headquarters in Brasilia.

The judges and their 19 relatives – apparently the only Afghan refugees to reach Brazil since the return of the Taliban to power – now have Brazilian bank accounts and medical care. And those who can are taking Portuguese classes.


At the moment it is unclear what the future holds for them in Brazil, where they at least have protection. But Muska said she would like to return home someday. “I hope to be able to join my relatives in Kabul. I have dreams of being home. I miss everything,” she added.

Muska didn’t get to see much of her host country due to safety concerns, language barriers and her own fears. But she found people who empathize with her situation. “They cry with us, we know they can sense our feelings,” the magistrate said with teary eyes.

Her children, one of them a toddler, also struggle to adjust. Muska used to have the help of her parents or nannies, but in Brazil she is virtually alone as she worries about her future and theirs.

The children seemed happy and energetic as they ran and jumped in a public playground, speaking in Dari to each other. But the judge noted that her eldest daughter asks her questions that she cannot answer.

“She always asks me about my parents, her friends, her cousins,” she recounted. “She always asks us about the Taliban, if they are going to kill us,” she said.

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

“I have hope for them. That they will have a good education in a good situation, in a good education system,” she added. “They will be able to choose what to do.”

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