Moshtari Danesh overcame great odds to realize her dream of becoming a prosecutor in Afghanistan.
She contracted the polio virus as a child, leaving her crippled. With the aid of a prosthetic leg and crutches, she attended school and then graduated from university with a law degree.
Danesh also had to overcome gender discrimination in the deeply conservative and male-dominated country, where women face major obstacles to study and work.
Five years ago, her struggles paid off when she landed a job as a prosecutor at the Attorney General’s office. Earlier this year, she was promoted to oversee cases involving violence against women, an issue close to her heart.
But Danesh’s dream quickly turned into a nightmare when the Taliban toppled the internationally recognized Afghan government and seized power in August.
Over the past five months, the militant group has rolled back many of the rights women and girls had gained since the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime from power in 2001.
The Taliban has barred most women from returning to work, prevented many girls from receiving a secondary school education, and has imposed draconian restrictions on the movement and appearances of women.
Within days of the Taliban takeover, Danesh lost her job in the capital, Kabul. Since then, she has been unemployed and is struggling to provide for her family.
“We have been living in misery for several months," Danesh told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, adding that she has been unable to pay rent. “We are suffering from poverty.”
Like many Afghans, Danesh is reeling from a devastating economic crisis triggered by the Taliban takeover and the sudden halt in international assistance.
“He Shot At Me’
But deepening poverty is not her only worry. Prosecutors who worked for Afghanistan's ousted government have said they are being threatened by the criminals they helped convict. The Taliban emptied many of the country's jails during their takeover of the country in the summer.
“Prosecutors have had to change residences so that the convicts the Taliban freed could not find us,” said Danesh. "We are now permanently living in hiding, and even our families cannot move freely."
Several prosecutors, judges, and lawyers have been killed in recent months. Others have been attacked or threatened.
Western nations have evacuated and granted asylum to hundreds of judicial workers from Afghanistan. But for the thousands who remain trapped in Afghanistan, particularly women, the future is bleak.
Fatana Mohammadi, a lawyer, was attacked by an unidentified man in broad daylight in her home in Kabul last month.
“He shot at me once, but I was able to dodge the bullet by throwing a blanket over him,” Mohammadi told Radio Azadi. “After that, his gun jammed."
Mohammadi said the attacker then beat her.
"My cries for help attracted the attention of my neighbors,” who apprehended the attacker and handed him over to the Taliban, she said.
“I still do not know who he was or why he wanted to kill me,” added Mohammadi.
Inamullah Samagani, a Taliban spokesman, told journalists in November that the militant group was not targeting former prosecutors. "There is no arbitrary or prejudiced treatment of [former] prosecutors," he said.
Taliban Tightens Grip On Justice System
Afghanistan's judiciary has undergone a swift and complete overhaul since the Taliban seized power.
In November, the Taliban's justice minister, Mullah Abdul Hakim, declared that only Taliban-approved lawyers can work in their Islamic courts, effectively revoking the licenses of some 2,500 lawyers and banning women from working in law.
Dozens of Taliban gunmen also stormed the offices of Afghanistan’s Independent Bar Association (AIBA) in Kabul that month and ordered its employees to stop their work. The Taliban has put the AIBA under the control of its Justice Ministry, stripping the organization of its independence.
The moves have raised deep concerns about the impartiality and fairness of criminal trials under the Taliban.
Observers said the shadow courts of the Taliban’s insurgency, dominated by clerics, have been transformed into the state’s new judicial system.
“There’s no indication that the Taliban are thinking about incorporating the institutional setup of the previous government’s judicial and legal system,” said Haroun Rahimi, a self-exiled assistant law professor for the Kabul-based American University of Afghanistan.
"They view that system with disdain," he added. "They'd like to continue what they perceive as a more Islamic -- authentically Islamic -- simple version of the adjudication that they were doing with their shadow courts."
During its brutal rule of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, Taliban courts used theirtribal interpretations of Shari'a law to prescribe extreme public punishments, including executions, floggings, and amputations.
Since returning to power, the Taliban has signaled a return to some of its past methods.
In September, the Taliban hanged four dead bodies from cranes in the western city of Herat, local media and witnesses reported. The men, accused of taking part in a kidnapping, were killed in clashes with the Taliban.