High-profile Afghan judge refused UK entry despite Taliban threats

The judge will learn this week if he can emerge from hiding after new legal bid to travel to Britain

An evacuation flight with 265 people on board leaving Kabul airport as part of Operation Pitting. Photo: MoD/PA
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A high-profile Afghan judge has been rejected for relocation to the UK despite being hunted by the Taliban for jailing fighters detained by the US-led coalition after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

The counter-terrorism judge, identified only as JZ, is currently in hiding in Kabul following threats of reprisals by militants and an attempt to kidnap his 16-year-old son, London’s High Court was told. The Taliban searched his house last month.

The judge’s UK-based brother told British officials about his plight in August last year to try to get him out of the country as the Taliban advanced on Kabul.

The court was told that JZ was “very close” to being called for evacuation during Operation Pitting, the British military operation to fly Britons and some Afghans out of the country, but missed out as the scheme was abruptly halted on the orders of the Taliban.

About 15,000 people were brought out of the country during August 2021 but JZ, his wife, six children and another brother, were forced into hiding within Afghanistan.

Along with a group of judges, he applied to relocate to the UK under a scheme set up by the British government in April 2021 to help locally employed staff at risk of Taliban reprisals.

Approximately 10,000 Afghans were allowed to leave under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy by the end of Operation Pitting but JZ was rejected for the scheme in October. An official said he was not eligible because his work had been for the US and not the UK.

Lawyers for JZ have been fighting the decision in the courts and will learn this week if the UK government will back a new application to travel, via Pakistan, on “compelling compassionate” grounds because of his circumstances.

He had been told to travel to Pakistan to apply but he feared that he would be returned to the Taliban if his application was rejected. A judge said that would place him and his family “at real and immediate risk of death”.

Mrs Justice Lieven ruled on Friday that the government would have to indicate whether his application would be successful before he travelled to minimise the risk to his family.

JZ worked at Afghanistan’s main military prison at Bagram Air Base from 2008 to 2011 where he “tried a number of cases of Taliban insurgents, including imposing lengthy prison sentences”, she said in her ruling.

“There is evidence that well before 2021 JZ had received threats and had been provided with security by US forces.”

His family outside Afghanistan currently have no contact with him because of concerns that the Taliban could trace him through mobile phone signals.

“There is evidence that the Taliban have been actively trying to find him, and in September 2021 tried to abduct his son,” said the judge in her ruling.

“There is also evidence that the Taliban have increased their door-to-door searches and attacks on opponents since February 2022.”

Updated: April 05, 2022, 12:08 PM