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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
07KABUL1867 2007-06-06 07:00:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Kabul
Cable title:  

NY TIMES BESTSELLER PROMPTS THREATS FOR KABUL BEAUTY SCHOOL EMPLOYEES

Tags:   AF PGOV PHUM PK PREF PREL PTER 
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1. (C) SUMMARY: In a June 4 meeting with Embassy
PolOffs and RefCoord, four female employees of the
Kabul Beauty School described their fear of
persecution due to the publication of NY Times
bestseller, "Kabul Beauty School: The Art of Perms,
Friendship and Freedom." The book, written
by Amcit Deborah Rodriguez, who managed the school
and its adjoining salon for two years, features
allegedly unauthorized pictures of the four women
(sometimes without a headscarf - a major social
taboo) and tells intimate details of the women's
personal lives. As a result, the women report that
unidentified persons have come to their place of
employment and called them, issuing vague threats
and chiding the women for their role in a book that
allegedly defames Afghan cultural and religious
values. The book's author has contacted the
Department to argue on behalf of the women receiving
asylum in the U.S. and claims that she herself had
to flee Afghanistan in mid-May due to threats brought
on by the book's release. Fearing for their safety,
two of the women plan to flee Afghanistan in the near
future; the other two are undecided. Embassy offered
assistance in contacting UNHCR once the women have
decided to leave. END SUMMARY

BETRAYED, WOMEN REPORT THEIR LIVES ARE IN DANGER


--------------------------

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2. (C) On June 4, Emboffs met with four (Frehba
Fazia Aziz, Sharifa Ahmadi, Palwasha Hamdad, and
Terina Sediqqi) of the six women whom author
Rodriguez reported face danger as a result of the
book's release. (Note: Since its inception, the
cosmetology school has trained nearly 120 Afghan
women, six of whom remain employed as instructors
and beauticians at the school and its adjoining
salon. End note.) All four of the women
interviewed said they fear for their safety and
the safety of their families. They alleged that
before the book was published, Rodriguez promised
that their photos would not appear in the book and
their names would be changed. Instead, the women
shared with Emboffs a copy of the book that featured
their faces prominently (in some cases uncovered),
though their names have been thinly veiled through
the use of pseudonyms. While some versions of the
book printed in the U.S. do not include their
pictures, their pictures are reportedly printed in
copies of the book printed in 14 other countries
throughout Europe and Asia. The women brought
copies of the book published in Australia and
Germany, both with their pictures. In accordance
with an agreement they maintain they had with
Rodriguez, they did not believe the book had been
published in Dari, Farsi, or Arabic in any Muslim
countries. That said, "pirated" translations of
Western books are often reprinted in Farsi in Iran and
eventually make their way into Afghan bookstores.

3. (C) The beauty school employees reported that,
after the book's release, two unidentified women came
to the salon along with a foreign language translation
of the book that included the women's photos. Initially
thought to be customers, the women eventually revealed
that they had come to the school solely to verify
whether they could locate the same school and women
identified in the book. Upon being asked why, the
women told the beauty school employees that they had
done a very bad thing in bringing shame upon Afghan
women and Afghan values and cooperating with
foreigners. "You will hear from us later," they said,
issuing a rather vague but ominous threat as they
departed the school. The visitors' male companions

KABUL 00001867 002 OF 003


remained waiting outside in vehicles.

4. (C) Frehba Aziz reported that unidentified callers
from Logar and Khost provinces had contacted her under
the pretext of finding someone to provide cosmetic
services. Fearful of disclosing her identity to
unknown callers, Frehba denied being a beautician, to
which the callers allegedly replied, "We know who you
are and what you do. You are lying. You will be
sorry." She said no further threats were issued, but
she fears that someone is trying to locate and
potentially harm her. (Note: Aziz is more fearful
than the others, as she reported having prior problems
with an alleged member of the Taliban, who was a
colleague of her husband who was staying at her home.
Aziz maintained that prior to the book's
release, this man criticized her for working as a
female and that his attitude towards her had grown
significantly worse in recent weeks. Upon hearing
reports from the man's wife that he was a member of
the Taliban, she and her husband made arrangements for
him to stay elsewhere. She fears that this man may
now be behind some of the threatening phone calls she
has received, and she is particularly concerned
because he knows where she lives.)

5. (C) For some of the women, the fear that their
family or spouse will get hold of the book is as
great as their fear of a reaction from the Taliban or
reactionary elements within the Parliament. Because
none of them read English, the women are still unaware
of the full extent to which their personal lives have
been disclosed in the book. Media reports maintain
that intimate details, such as how one of the women
faked her virginity on her wedding night, are
recounted in the book. Given Afghanistan's strict
societal norms for women's behavior, family honor and
sexual morality, if identified, this woman could face
harsh retribution from both her family and the Afghan
public. The women also reportedly fear that members
of Parliament might eventually see the book and summon
them for public questioning about their role in
exposing details of Afghan family life in a shameful
manner. Said one woman, "I'd commit suicide before
going before Parliament." The women reported having
autographed several copies of the book for Ms. Rodriguez
prior to receiving threats and worry that these
autographed copies may surface in Kabul and be used as
evidence of their complicity in the book. (Comment:
While this scenario may seem far-fetched, in recent
months the Afghan Parliament has indeed summoned or
threatened to summon several prominent Afghan figures,
such as Foreign Minister Spanta, Attorney General
Sabit, and Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) Chairwoman
Sima Samar for public hearings. The thought that a
coterie of conservative MPs might seek to make an
example of these women is not inconceivable. Sadly,
suicide by self-immolation is not an uncommon
reaction among Afghan women who feel they have no
way out of a dilemma inflicted by societal dictates
on women's behavior. End Comment)

WEIGHING THEIR OPTIONS


--------------------------



6. (C) Emboffs explained to the women how the asylum
process would work, should they choose to flee
Afghanistan, noting that they would have to apply
once outside the country. Frehba Aziz and Terina
Sediqqi reported having already decided that they
will go into hiding in Pakistan, although they
expressed concern that they would not be safe there
either. The other two women, Sharifa Ahmadi and
Palwasha Hamdad, remain undecided and indicated that
fleeing to Pakistan would also create problems for
them, as their families, including Ms. Ahmadi's very

KABUL 00001867 003 OF 003


conservative husband, are still unaware of the book but
would certainly demand an explanation for why the
women suddenly wanted to seek refuge in Pakistan.

COMMENT


--------------------------



7. (C) Given the vague threats made against the
women, it is difficult to assess to what extent the
women are in imminent danger. Over the past year,
similarly vague threats were issued to many women's
rights activists without ever materializing (reftel).
On the other hand, Afghanistan is a dangerous place
and similar threats were also issued to the Director
of Women's Affairs in Kandahar Province (who was later
assassinated in September 2006) and to a female
journalist, Shakiba Shangaa Amaj, who was shot and
killed on June 1. Both women were prime targets
given their very public profiles.

8. (C) In the case of the Kabul Beauty School
employees, the women's perception of imminent danger
appears to be genuine. The threat could emanate
just as easily from socially conservative political
elements as from their own families, given that
"honor killings" are common in Afghanistan. In
assessing the authenticity of their claims, it is
also worth noting their allegations of betrayal by
Ms. Rodriguez and that, since departing
Afghanistan in mid-May, Rodriguez has allegedly
provided no support to the school (which now has an
outstanding rent bill of $10,000, no electricity, or
telephone), its students (who are normally provided
lunches) or salaries for the teachers. Though they
believe they are in danger, the women continue to work
at the school and salon, as several of them are their
family's sole breadwinner. Overall, they seemed very
mistrustful of Rodriguez and did not appear to be
using a claim to asylum simply to join her in the U.S.
WOOD