Joanna Palani fought with Kurdish peshmerga and YPG in Syria but is now in custody in Copenhagen.
Her lawyer, Erbil Kaya, noted the irony of seeking to prosecute someone who fought on the same side as Danish troops and other coalition forces while the government seeks to rehabilitate returning Isis fighters.
“It’s a shame. We are the first country in the world to punish a person who has been fighting on the same side as the international coalition. It’s hypocritical to punish her. Why don’t we punish the people who fight for Isis instead of people who are fighting on the same side as Denmark? … I don’t think it makes sense,” Kaya said.
Palani is the first foreign fighter to be jailed under new passport laws and is currently being held in Denmark’s largest prison, Vestre Fængsel in Copenhagen.
The judge agreed to a prosecution request for more time to prepare their case, Kaya said. Time spent in pre-trial detention will be taken off her final sentence, which could be as long as two years, according to Kaya, who is forbidden from reporting the details of the case.
Image credits: @Sarah Buthmann
Returning Isis fighters have benefited from the so-called Aarhus model of reintegration and deradicalisation instead of custodial sentences. Under the Aarhus model, returning fighters are assigned mentors, psychological counselling and are helped to apply for jobs or to resume education.
Now Joanna, who arrived in Denmark aged three with her family as refugees from Iraq, faces up two years behind bars for breaching the travel ban, intended to stop Danes from joining terror groups in the Middle East.
The passport laws Palani is accused of breaching are part of a number of measures taken by Denmark to attempt to stem the flow of fighters to the Middle East. The country is second only to Belgium in the number of jihadi fighters per head of population in Europe. The law aims to prevent individuals travelling when a journey may involve issues such as national security or “a substantial threat to public order”.
Forced to move from location to location every three days, she says she is struggling financially and lacking all home comforts.
‘I am freezing cold every night and I go to bed hungry.
‘The Danish government is trying to set an example of me in court so they can say publicly that I am just the same as ISIS, but I am not a criminal.
‘I would take ten years in jail with pride to save people but I wouldn’t accept one day in jail for being a danger to Denmark. I don’t understand why they [the Danish intelligence service] would view me as a threat when I was fighting for Europe and for females everywhere.’ (DailyMail).
But while she was in jail she learned of a threat from another angle. Joanna was told that ISIS had now put a $1 million-bounty on her head.
Looking tired but defiant, Joanna says: ‘ISIS want to kill me, and capture me to convert me into a radical Islamist or turn me into a sex slave. “
Image credits: Asger Ladefoged
- Who are the Kurdish Fighters of YPG?
Palani has described fighting with special forces operatives inside Syria. Both the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga and the Syrian YPJ, the women’s battalion of the YPG that Palani is most associated with, are being supported by international coalition forces, including Danish forces.
The YPG, a dominant partner in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) currently leading the push towards Raqqa are, however, considered a terrorist group by Turkey. Both the the YPG and the YPJ are linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is officially designated as a terrorist organisation in Europe and the US.
The YPJ played a central role in the battle for Kobani, and Palani recalled the two weeks she spent there at the very start of the Isis offensive in 2014 as “the longest of my life”. She described enduring starvation-like conditions as the city was besieged by Isis fighters and supplies were cut, and said she lost “many friends” before being sent away from the front due to injury.
Speaking on her way to her detention she said she would try to plead her case on behalf of those who died fighting Isis. “The YPJ are not terrorists – we are fighting terrorists. To say we are not part of the coalition fighting against Isis is an insult to every YPJ woman who died in Kobani doing exactly that.”
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