An Exclusive Interview of VOC News with Roqia Saee, Women’s Rights Activist
Following the Hazara Genocide narrative, VOC News now conducted an interview with one of the Hazara warrior women, which draws your attention to it. In the introduction, a brief biography of Ms. Roqia Saee is written, and then the interview continues in the form of questions and answers.
Ever since the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, women and girls have begun protesting in a great scope. With the slogan of “Bread, Work, Freedom”, women gravely dared protesting against the Taliban group for imposing restrictions. The Taliban group, with repression and violence, sought to stop the demonstrations. A dangerous act given the Taliban’s record for detaining a large number of protesting women. Even so, they stood strongly against Taliban and continued their struggle. These struggles continue until now and many protest movements have been formed. But in the meantime, there is no place to narrate women’s struggles, what restrictions and threats women protested with, remains unsaid. Creating a narrative of women’s struggle can be very effective in the current situation of Afghanistan. On the other hand, the creation of narratives shows the world that Afghanistani women stand empty-handed against a group that has eighty billion dollars of equipment left over from the US.
Note: Roqia Saee was born in 1995 in the Punjab district of Bamyan province. She attended school up to grade 11 at a female High School in the centre of Punjab but did not succeed in continuing her education due to her marriage to Rahmatullah. Roqia’s Husband was a former officer of the Afghanistan National Army and worked in various provinces of Afghanistan. Roqia Saee’s husband had promised her that he would support her as soon as possible so that she could continue her studies. Saee’s husband was wounded in the leg in the war with the Taliban in Paktia province while he was serving in the army for eleven years. His wound never healed, and he passed away in 2019, leaving Saee with a world full of sorrow and Loneliness and the responsibility of two eight- and five-year-old children on her shoulders. Since her childhood, Saee has been interested in being a member of the security forces, and for this reason, she enrolled in the former National Army of Afghanistan and went through all the administrative steps one after the other. But unfortunately, the situation in Afghanistan was getting worse. Then Afghanistan fell into the hands of the Taliban, and she was deprived of her dreams.
Mohseni: Tell us about your cultural and social activities. When did you start, and what have you done so far?
Saee: My cultural activities started when a number of extremists brutally murdered Farkhunda in Shah Doshamshira, Kabul. They first punched and kicked Farkhunda under the pretext of burning the Quran, then put her under the car, and finally set her on fire. This incident had a bad effect on me, and I decided not only to be a women’s rights activist but also to be a human rights activist and to work for the rights of women and children in Afghanistan. My activities started at that point and still continue.
Mohseni: When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, where were you, and what were you doing?
Saee: I was in Kabul at the time of the fall, and I had been living in Kabul for 14 years. Because my husband was in the army and the route between Kabul and Bamyan was dangerous, he could not travel, and we moved to Kabul. I will never forget that dark day and how the country fell into the trap of a terrorist group that does not believe in anything.
Mohseni: What made you protest against the Taliban?
Saee: The Taliban are a terrorist group, an extremist group, anti-women, and anti-Shia, and at the very beginning of their rise to power, they did and continue to do many atrocities on the people, and the Taliban leader deprived women of all their rights by issuing illegal decrees. On a daily basis, the Taliban committed atrocities and arbitrary detentions. Personal hostilities and targeted killings were carried out by the Taliban every day, and I could not ignore them. Of course, I also hated the Taliban and did not want their rule to last.
That’s why we decided, with some of our like-minded people, to resist the Taliban. When we saw that people were not able to fight and were tired of fighting, we wanted to raise our voice against the Taliban terrorist group. We protested in the streets and started demonstrations. We protested every decree issued by the leader of the Taliban. This reaction of ours was accompanied by violent actions by the Taliban, such as beatings, insults, being wanted, death threats, arrests, and imprisonments.
Mohseni: How did you start the protests?
Saee: With all the threats against us, we continued our protests. I have two children, and when I left the house to protest, I hugged my children as if it were the last time. I would stare at my children and tell them with tears in their eyes to defend their rights and stand up against any tyrant who violates the rights of the people of Afghanistan. Do not allow your people to be oppressed. When we went to the protests, we knew that we would not return alive and that we might be killed by the Taliban.
Because the Taliban shot directly at the protesters to disperse them, used tear gas, and even beat the protesters in public. In this regard, we saw many problems and suffered a lot. Every time we participated in the protests; we had no hope of coming back alive. We understood that the Taliban are barbarians and do not understand anything about the principles and rules of human rights. The Taliban do not understand that the demonstration is the right of the people and that their voice should be heard. Despite all this, we continued our struggle. When we participated in protests. After the protests, we were chased for hours, and the Taliban people followed us from street to street, but we cleverly did not leave a sign and even went home a few days later.
Mohseni: How many times have you been arrested and imprisoned, and by whom or by what institution?
Saee: I was arrested twice, the first time on December 22, 2022. I was arrested for protesting the decree of the Taliban leader banning women from education. By issuing this decree, my fellow workers and I decided that we should react. That’s why we chose the Dehburi intersection for the demonstration. First, we wanted to protest in front of Kabul University, but because we had protested there before for the expulsion of some Hazara students and the Taliban treated us very harshly, we gave up and chose the Dehburi intersection for the demonstration. When we started the demonstration, ten or fifteen minutes had not even passed when the Taliban arrived and started beating and arresting the girls. Once we realised that among us, there are women who forcibly drag the girls to the Ranger vehicles, When we looked carefully, we saw that two or three women who were Taliban and were wearing completely black clothing, and only their eyes could be seen, were holding the girls tightly, and the Taliban people were coming to their aid. They forced the girls on the Ranger with guns and sticks. It was a horrible scene. I felt helpless, and no one came to help us, and no one could approach, fearing the Taliban militias. Taliban men beat women with guns and batons. I left the stage and got into a taxi. The taxi went part of the way when a Taliban ranger moved behind us, blocked our way, and told us to get out of the car. I had two mobile phones with me: one was a smart phone that I had taken with me for preparing reports and photos, and one was a regular phone. I was completely terrified and did not know what to do. I pulled out my phone and wanted to call my family, but my mind was not working. I was about to call my friend when the Taliban took my phone from me. Taliban people grabbed my hair, beat me, and violently put me on the ranger, saying this is one of the traitors. They drew the black plastic bag over my head, and my condition was very bad and I couldn’t breathe. I shouted and shouted to get the bag off my head. I am neither a terrorist nor a traitor. They didn’t like what I said, and they hit my ear hard with their fists, which damaged my left ear, and I still haven’t regained full hearing. In short, they took me very cruelly and terribly; I didn’t know where they were taking me. Once I found myself in the third area of security, They put me in a room, and then they entered the room with two other people. He punched and kicked me, telling me to unlock my mobile phone. I had to enter the password on my mobile phone. All my photos, virtual pages, and communication channels were given to the Taliban. I had photos of the previous demonstrations and this demonstration on my phone.
They hit me several times with a pipe, questioning, “Who do you work for, and who did you get money from?” My answer was that I did not take money from anyone. They searched my mobile a lot to find something. But they could not find anything. I only had contact with the media, and there were some messages and photos that I had sent to them on my phone. When they saw that there was nothing on my mobile phone, they left the room. I was suffering from pain and was in very bad condition. Two or three hours later, two females Talib came wearing black hijabs, drew a black burlap sack on my head, and transferred me from the third district. The new place they transferred me to was very horrible; the room was very dark, and there was a bloody carpet in the wide room. It was understood that many people were tortured there. The room was damp and smelled like blood. In the Taliban prison, people’s privacy is not respected; I had no privacy. I didn’t have the right to call, to have a lawyer, or to talk to my family. The Taliban did not give me any answers. I once asked why you arrested me. Is the reason for my arrest only because you banned women and girls from work and education, and we protested against your action? I said to them, Women who are homeless and the breadwinners of their families—that is why you have brought me here? This question of mine was very annoying to them. Instead of a convincing answer, they only investigated; when they took me to the investigation room, they insulted me and beat me with pipes. When I passed out, they poured ice water on my head. Then they took me to solitary confinement in the same state. I was alone in the room, and I could hear the moans and screams of other girls. They drew a plastic bag over my head and wrapped it tightly around my head so that I couldn’t breathe (She described this part with tears). They laughed at me and enjoyed torturing me when I was struggling and screaming. I don’t forget it at all, and every time I remember it, it affects my soul. At night, when I thought about my children, I wondered, where would they be without me? And What would they do? (She explained this part with tears.) Although I had no hope of survival. But with the search done by my family and friends, they were able to find my whereabouts. Based on the conversations and repeated requests of my family and friends, they finally released me on bail. They took a commitment from me not to participate in any demonstration and not to talk to any media. They told me that whatever happened to me there, I should not talk to anyone, not even my family. Then they released me, and I went home. For a while, I was very frightened, and the nightmare of the nights I had spent in the Taliban prison bothered me a lot (She explained this episode with tears). I could not sleep properly, and every moment I thought that the Taliban would come and take me away again. I screamed at night and even thought of suicide. Little by little, the situation became normal, and my health condition improved.
There was a girl next to our house who was in class 10 at the school, and we used to communicate. One day when I went to their house, she looked at me crying and said, “Roqia, how long will we beg a terrorist group to allow us to study? Why did they ban us from school?” and when I heard these words, I felt sick (She described this episode with tears). I was going out to change my mind, but unfortunately, it was not possible. I was very sad, and my throat was tight. Until the new year came and the school bell rang without the presence of girls, we decided to start a demonstration with some girls and loved ones on March 26, 2023, for banning women from education. But in reality, our request from the Taliban was not to reopen schools; our request was to draw the attention of the international community and the United Nations to how a terrorist group has deprived women and girls of their human rights.
We started our protests, and we put a blue cloth around our necks as a sign of protest. We started our protest from Shahid Mazari Square, and we wanted to go to Asif Mayel School, where we planned to block the school gate and sit there. A few minutes had not passed when the Taliban arrived and took some of the protesting girls to the Pistachio House of Barchi after checking their phones. No one had brought a smartphone with them, and the Taliban did not get anything and released them again. But when I was holding the loudspeaker in my hand and chanting, the Taliban noticed me and rushed towards me. They took the loudspeaker from my hand, hit it on the ground, and broke it. The Taliban took my hair and put me on the Ranger. I resisted and wanted to free myself from their hands, but the Taliban people slapped and punched me in the face. After a few minutes, I passed out from the beating, and when I regained consciousness, I found myself in the sixth district. We were investigated again, and they checked my mobile and asked, Why are you defaming the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan? And again, repeating the same question as before, who did you get money from? And who did you sell yourself to? In their answer, I said that I did not take money from anyone, and we protested because the schools were closed.
I was humiliated and insulted, such as by saying that Shias are Rafizi. When I was praying and using Mohr, they were mockingly watching me. They directly called me a Barchi whore. We were in jail for a few hours, and then they transferred us from there. We were also beaten and interrogated there. They asked repeated questions about my family’s address. They were still looking for documents. But they found nothing. Unfortunately, it was said in the media that I was arrested for the second time. This is what made them decide to transfer me to the 40th Police District. I was investigated that night. This time I was very disappointed, and I thought to myself that I would not come back alive. Because they had taken a commitment from me once. I knew that this time I would be treated harshly, especially when they wanted to transfer me there, which is the worst place for prisoners. I was terrified and had no hope of getting out. The next day, I don’t know what time it was when my eyes were closed, they transferred me to the sixth district, and there I saw that my family had come; it was the month of Ramadan, and they had brought my two children as well. Unfortunately, my father was also insulted, humiliated, and even slapped, saying that you don’t know about your children who are doing bad things on the streets, and when your government arrests them, you will notice? I was released after the elders’ negotiations with the Taliban, but they took a forced video confession from me that I couldn’t speak, and I don’t want to talk about that video.
Mohseni: When they arrested you, where did they transfer you?
Saee: The first time they transferred me to the third district and then they transferred me to an unknown place and that was their procedure. First, I was supposed to be transferred to the Kabul Directorate, but I was released, and the second time, they said among themselves that I should be transferred to the 40th Directorate, but they released me. The presidency is the worst place for prisoners. Because there, the prisoners are kept in a very bad way and tortured.
Mohseni: When you were arrested, were there women among the Taliban?
Saee: Yes, among the Taliban, there are women who wear black clothes and have burqas.
Mohseni: Were you kept in the women’s prison, or were the men and the guards female or male?
Saee: The first time I was there, my cell was single, and there were no men or women in my room. But those who investigated me were all men, and no women did investigate. The guards in the cell were men, but when they wanted to arrest and detain, there were also women.
Mohseni: What kind of torture were you subjected to?
Saee: I was physically and mentally tortured. Humiliation for being a Hazara, insulted, and insulted for being a Shia They continued to beat me with fists and pipes and put a plastic bag on my head.
Mohseni: Were you tortured for being a Hazara?
Saee: Yes, the Taliban are sensitive towards the Hazara people, and they do not treat other people, especially the Pashtuns, as violently as they treat the Hazara prisoners. They are softer with others; it is our view that when Zarifa Yaqoubi was imprisoned, we managed to visit Zarifa Yaqoubi with her sister after 32 days. There we saw Farhat Popalzai’s mother, who was arrested after Zarifa. I think because she was a reporter and was arrested for a programme. We asked Farhat’s mother, “Have you ever met Farhat?” In response, she said, “Yes, we have seen each other four times, and this is our fifth time.” But we had not met Zarifa Yaqoubi even once in 32 days. There is ethnic discrimination, especially towards Hazara prisoners.
Mohseni: How did you get free?
Saee: I was released through the negotiations of my elders and family, and they pledged that I would not participate in any protest programme.
Mohseni: Were you threatened even after your release?
Saee: Yes, when I was released, I was threatened with death. The Taliban said, “If you protest, you will be punished by death, and you have to accept whatever decision the Emirate makes for you. and you have no right to complain”, and we had no choice but to accept it. Even after being released, I lived with fear and anxiety.
Mohseni: What are your plans and goals?
Roqia Saee: I will not stop protesting, whether it is through demonstrations or through the media. I will fight. Of course, our demands are not that the Taliban reopen schools. Basically, our desire is to overthrow the Taliban, and we ask the international community to stop playing with the fate of the Afghanistani people and not to support the Taliban terrorist group. The Taliban do not represent the people of Afghanistan, and the people do not consider them to be the government. Rather, they are a radical terrorist group, and we stand against them.
Mohseni: What is your message for women, the people of Afghanistan, and the world community?
Roqia Saee: My message to Afghanistani women is that they shouldn’t be afraid of dying only once. A dignified death is better than a humiliating life. It doesn’t matter if we die, and we should not stop fighting. Of course, my personal opinion is that 30 years ago, when the Taliban came to Afghanistan, it was nothing more than a small movement. If our mothers had acted and fought against them at that time, our situation would not be like this today.
The Taliban was no more than a terrorist group, but with the help of foreign lobbyists, they were able to gain power, and the result was that they ruled over the people of Afghanistan. If Afghanistani women did not have weapons at that time, they could have fought with a pen like women do today. My wish is that men and women unite, stand together, stop hypocrisy and ethnic prejudices, and join hands for the freedom of Afghanistan. Our strength is in our unity; we get somewhere with unity. Our demand from the international community is to close the Taliban office in Qatar. The Taliban should be politically sanctioned. Taliban officials should not be allowed to travel.