23-year-old Danish student Joanna Palani has been called a lot of things in the media — brave, brainy, bold, and fierce, to name a few.
Six months ago the young woman left her native Denmark to fight for the Kurds against ISIS and Assad's men in Syria, Palani's talked to Vice magazine's Broadly and others extensively about her experiences — namely rescuing Kurdish girls being held as sex slaves by ISIS fighters and bonding with her fellow soldiers.
But now, Palani stands trial at Copenhagen City Court on charges of violating Denmark's 'foreign fighter' law, which — in a bitter irony — is meant to prevent Danish citizens from leaving the country and fight with terror groups. However, despite the fact that she was actually fighting against an internationally recognized terror group, the law applies equally to her.
The law came about originally as a result of Denmark having among the highest number per capita of foreign fighters in Syria — owing in part to its large population of Kurdish Danes.
This marks the second time Palani has run afoul of the law in Denmark — just last year her passport was taken by police and Danish intelligence service PET, and she was placed under a year-long travel ban in September of 2015.
But Palani's commitment to the fight against ISIS was apparently stronger than the will of the Danish government, because in June of this year, she traveled to Qatar to resume her role as a soldier.
Now, Palani faces a six-month prison sentence for directly violating her travel ban, and appeared in court once again on December 20th.
In her interview earlier this year with Vice's Broadly, Palani told journalist Lara Whyte about the brutality and terror she witnessed on the battlefield and against defenseless civilians in war-ravaged Syria.
On her first night out on the battlefield, she saw a fellow fighter with the Kurds — a Swede — shot between the eyes by a sniper after being spotted because of a lit cigarette.
She also told of the horror while liberating a village close to Mosul, Iraq and discovering a large group of children that were being held prisoner by ISIS soldiers who used them for their own violent, sexual pleasure.
Then there was her comparison of ISIS fighters to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's highly-trained soldiers:
“ISIS fighters are very easy to kill. ISIS fighters are very good at sacrificing their own lives, but Assad's soldiers are very well trained and they are specialist killing machines.”
Palani, who originally left Denmark in November of 2014, first joined the YPG (People's Protection Unit) and then the Peshmerga, the Western-trained and funded army of the Kurdish Regional Government, saying that she was fighting for “for human rights for all people,” as are the Kurds:
“The Kurds are fighting for democracy and Western values. If I get captured or killed, I will be proud of why I was killed.”
The politics and philosophy student said she went to fight for the Kurds in Syria 'for human rights for all people'.
But now, as she tells Broadly in a more recent interview, she feels betrayed by the very institutions she went to represent on the battlefield:
“I would give my life for Europe, for democracy, for freedom and for women's rights. I feel like I have been betrayed by those who I was ready to sacrifice my life for.”
Palani, a politics and philosophy university student, is herself of Syrian Christian descent.