Breaking windows, assaulting citizens: do Afghan MPs think they're above the law?
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A video of a Kabul shop owner being hit by an MP's bodyguard has enraged online users in Afghanistan. But the incident is hardly the first example of the use of force by an elected official or a member of his team.
The MP, Amirgol Shahin, confirmed that he got into an argument with the shop owner on June 17 and claimed that his bodyguard stepped in to protect him from verbal abuse, several Afghan media outlets reported. Shahin did not provide further details to reporters.
The assault is the latest in a long list of violent altercations involving Afghanistan’s officials. Three months ago, MP Parvin Durrani was filmed slapping a soldier who had stopped her car near the presidential palace.
Parliament member Parvin Durrani was filmed slapping a soldier who had stopped her car near the Presidential Palace.
In September, lawmaker Homa Soltani got into an argument with staff at a shop where she had brought children living in the streets to buy them cakes, attacking an employee and breaking a window in the process.
MP Homa Soltani seen getting into an altercation with employees of a store where she had brought children living in the streets.
In April 2017, Fatima Aziz, an elected official from Kunduz, assaulted a nurse in a hospital after the latter allegedly called her “Auntie."
"Members of Parliament see the Afghan people as their subjects"
Abdollah Saljoughi, a reporter who covers the Afghan parliament, said this type of violent behavior is inherently tied to the country's political and judicial system.
After 40 years of nonstop conflict in Afghanistan, it is rare to see people solve their problems with constructive dialogue. Lots of disagreements end in brawls and the MPs are no exception. But there are also other contributing factors.
Many MPs are former warlords or land-owning elites who have money and weapons. They were elected but their mentality hasn’t changed, and they continue to see the Afghan people as their subjects.
They also benefit from parliamentary immunity, which makes the situation worse. Officials think they are above the law and can do whatever they want.
Elected parliament officials cannot be prosecuted for actions taken in the context of their role, according to articles 101 and 102 of the constitution. They remain liable for actions outside of the professional realm.
The majority of the parliament members who have been involved in violent altercations support either President Ashraf Ghani or his political rival Abdullah Abdullah. Abdullah refused to accept defeat in the 2014 presidential election and was ultimately named chief executive of a coalition government formed to end the political crisis.
"In reality, the MPs are above the law"
Saljoughi said the problem lies in the gap between the law and how it is applied.
These MPs should be prosecuted. But in reality, they are above the law. The government looks the other way when they engage in this type of violence because it knows that they are important local figures who can drum up support for the presidency amongst their voters. If the government cracks down on these parliamentarians, it risks losing votes.
The whole system is broken. No one wants to condemn this bad behavior because everyone is doing it.
The level of impunity can sometimes seem excessive. In October 2017, journalist Norouz Raja said he was captured and tortured by bodyguards of Lalai Hamidzai, an official from Kandahar. Raja had been reporting on concrete blocks that had been placed outside of Hamidzai’s home as a safety measure against potential terrorist attacks, but which completely blocked a pedestrian crossing.
A 2016 video in which Samiullah Samim, an MP from Farah, is seen assaulting police officers who wanted to search his car.
A police arrest
Afghan police announced on June 23 that Shahin’s bodyguards had been arrested and called on elected officials to respect the law. But Saljoughi said the victims of the assaults should have been better protected.
Victims can’t file a complaint because they fear for their safety if it goes to trial. The victims are regular citizens who have to confront all-powerful MPs. They will be silenced with money or violence.
We need real change, with a clean police force and judicial system. We need to get people to stop voting for these corrupt politicians. It would also be wise to make the laws around parliamentary immunity clearer.