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Cablegate: Refugee Admissions Referral: Azizi, Mehria

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBUL #1603/01 1811225
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 291225Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4522
INFO RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 6589

UNCLAS KABUL 001603

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CVIS PHUM AF
SUBJECT: Refugee Admissions Referral: Azizi, Mehria

1. (SBU) Embassy Kabul refers Azizi, Mehria Farzhad, one of
Afghanistan's first female camerawomen and filmmakers, and her
family to the U.S. refugee admissions program (USRAP). Below is
biographic information for the principal applicant and her
dependents, a description of her persecution claim, and
justification for recommending her for the USRAP.

2. (SBU) Principal Applicant

Name: Azizi, Mehria Farzhad
DOB: 07 May 1984
POB: Kabul, Afghanistan
Gender: Female
Marital Status: Married

Dependents:

Name: Farzhad, Mohammad Azim
DOB: 07 May 1978
POB: Kabul
Gender: Male
Marital Status: Married
Relationship to PA: Husband

Name: Farzhad, Mohammad Ali
DOB: 19 Dec 2007
POB: Kabul
Gender: Male
Relationship to PA: Son

Description of Persecution Claim
--------------------------------

3. (SBU) Ms. Merhia Azizi works for AINA, an independent Afghan
film company that made the State Department-funded film,
"Afghanistan Unveiled." Ms. Azizi joined AINA in 2002, and she and
five other young women appeared in the film both in front of and
behind the camera as they interviewed women and provided commentary.
The film was released internationally in 2003 to critical acclaim
and nominated for an Emmy in 2005.

4. (SBU) Ms. Azizi claims that when she traveled to the provinces
to film "Afghanistan Unveiled," she began receiving threats from
male family members of women who appeared unveiled in the film. The
men allegedly claimed they would find and kill her if anyone saw the
faces of their female relatives. Ms. Azizi claims that phone
harassment began in 2003, and in 2006 an assailant fired six or
seven shots into a car in which she and her brother were sitting,
luckily hitting neither of them. The police allegedly witnessed the
attack but said they thought it was a toy gun. No police report was
filed. After this incident, warning calls to all family members
began, threatening to kill or kidnap them. Ms. Azizi claims her
frequent visits to the police and Interpol's Afghanistan office
failed to provide anything other than harassment by the police
themselves (teasing and taunting her and dismissal of her claim as
"drama"). Despite her repeated attempts to obtain documentation of
her visits there, Ms. Azizi has no substantiation of her discussions
with police.

5. (SBU) Ms. Azizi claims her harassers call her cell phone
constantly and have detailed information of her movements. In
September 2006, her brother (also working at AINA at the time) was
attacked and beaten by four masked men who allegedly taunted him and
said he had betrayed them for allowing his sister to work at AINA.
Around the same period, Ms. Azizi sent her 17-year old brother to
Iran for safety since callers claimed they would kill him "while he
was sleeping." In Iran, Ms. Azizi claims he was kidnapped and held
for three months, beaten frequently and tortured to reveal Ms.
Azizi's phone numbers. The family eventually paid $5,000 for his
release but the attackers were never identified. The brother is now
back in Afghanistan and suffering from memory loss and trauma. In
2007, Ms. Azizi continued to receive phone calls at all hours of the
night, threatening to behead or dismember her brother, however, he
has not been attacked since his return from Iran. Ms. Azizi says
that another man appeared recently at her home with a knife,
demanding her phone number but her older brother denied knowing her.
She and a colleague were also threatened at knifepoint in a
restaurant by the cabdriver who drove them there. Ms. Azizi's
employer is aware of her allegations of harassment but has provided
no protection for her and allegedly treats her as a pariah.

Background
----------

6. (SBU) Threats against female journalists and, indeed, women of
any prominence, are common in Afghanistan. Female journalists have
been assassinated for dishonoring Islam or their family, or both,
and all other women who worked on "Afghanistan Unveiled" have fled
the country. Religious leaders are advocating strict prohibitions
on women appearing on television with men.

Justification for Resettlement
------------------------------

7. (SBU) Ms. Azizi was part of the all-female camera crew who filmed
and appeared in "Afghanistan Unveiled," a documentary funded in part
by the U.S. State Department and USAID (featured prominently in the
film credits). In the documentary, Ms. Azizi films Afghan women
unveiled and appears unveiled herself. She even challenges the men
on camera who claim that Islam requires women to cover their faces.
PBS bought the film rights to "Afghanistan Unveiled" and broadcast
it over 200 PBS affiliates. Since the film, Ms. Azizi has appeared
in many foreign and Afghan magazines as a women's advocate and role
model. She has also given many televised interviews and traveled
extensively to Europe, Canada, and Australia.

8. (SBU) Ms. Azizi also has significant ties to the United States.
PBS and U.S.-Afghan Women's Council member and former PBS CEO Pat
Mitchell brought Ms. Azizi and four of the five young camerawomen to
the Emmy Awards, accompanied by U/S Paula Dobriansky. U/S
Dobriansky met Ms. Azizi again in Kabul and in Washington when
Mehria participated in an ECA program. First Lady Laura Bush also
welcomed several of the camerawomen to the White House. Pat
Mitchell, now the President and CEO of The Paley Center for Media,
continues to be a mentor to the girls.

9. (SBU) Ms. Azizi is now married and has a six-month old son who
accompanies her everywhere. She claims to vary her routes to work
and not tell anyone what she does, but the harassment continues,
often targeted to a specific date and place, e.g., "we know your
wife is in Parwan today and we are driving there now to kill her."
She has supposedly communicated her concerns with her western
colleagues in the past, although she has never approached the
Embassy before. Given the harasser's seemingly intimate knowledge
of her whereabouts and their alleged ability to track down and
kidnap her brother in Iran, Ms. Azizi would most likely not be safe
in Pakistan were she to apply for asylum there through UNHCR's
lengthy process. It is post's view that Ms. Azizi's harassers are
likely to continue their activities and possibly move to harm her or
her family again. Given Ms. Azizi's very active role in
"Afghanistan Unveiled," her significant association with the State
Department and the Administration, and her activities to promote
women's freedoms in Afghanistan, we believe that a P1 Referral is
appropriate.

WOOD

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