Half the women in Afghan jails have been imprisoned for ‘moral crimes’. Photograph: Emilio Morenatti/AP
President intervenes in case of 19-year-old woman who has spent two years in jail after reporting rape by a relative
guardian.co.uk | Dec 1, 2011
by Jeremy Kelly in Kabul
An Afghan woman jailed for adultery after she was raped by a relative is set to be freed – but only after agreeing to marry the man who attacked her.
The case, which has highlighted the plight of Afghan women jailed for so-called moral crimes, was to be the subject of a documentary film funded by the European Union – until diplomats censored it out of fear for the woman’s welfare, and for their relations with the Afghan government.
But the decision not to broadcast the film, unintentionally led to a storm of publicity that has resulted in the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, intervening in the case of the 19-year-old woman, named Gulnaz.
Karzai, who will soon head to an international conference on Afghanistan in Bonn to seek financial support from foreign donors, ordered Gulnaz to be released on condition that she and her attacker agree to mediation.
In a statement released on Thursday night, the presidential palace said Gulnaz would be released after she agreed to become the second wife of her rapist – a prospect that supporters say she had dreaded.
In Afghan culture, marrying the father of a child born out of wedlock is seen as a way of “legitimising” the child, even in cases involving rape.
New York Times says rape is an Afghan custom
The documentary’s British director, Clementine Malpas, said Gulnaz’s decision would have been made under duress. “She has told me that the rapist had destroyed her life because no one else would marry her after what happened to her,” Malpas said. “She feels like she has no other option than to marry him and it’s the only way to bring peace between her and his family.
“I know she wants honour but I also know she doesn’t want to marry this man. And of course I am worried about what the future holds for her because of this decision.”
In Malpas’s film Gulnaz says she would never forgive her attacker but adds that she would consider marrying him. “I don’t want people to call her (her daughter) a bastard and abuse my brothers. My brothers won’t have honour in our society until he marries me,” she says.
Gulnaz was jailed for 12 years for adultery after she reported being raped by a cousin by marriage in an attack that left her pregnant. As the case became publicised, the sentence was reduced to three years. She has spent the past two and a half years in jail, during which time she gave birth to a daughter. Malpas, 30, had spent months following Gulnaz’s case after being commissioned by the EU to make a documentary on women’s rights in Afghanistan.
News of Gulnaz’s ordeal prompted an American lawyer to launch a petition, which attracted more than 6,000 signatures demanding her release. This helped prompt the meeting between Karzai and senior figures in the Afghan justice system, including the head of the supreme court, the justice minister and the attorney general.
The attorney general and justice minister visited both Gulnaz and her attacker in their jails to seek their approval for the union.
Gulnaz’s lawyer, Kimberley Motley, said: “My concern is that an illiterate woman, in the face of high-level government officials, all men I believe, would be a very intimidating situation for her.”
Motley and Malpas and other supporters had arranged for Gulnaz to be taken to a safehouse if she was released unconditionally.
The case is far from unique. Roughly half of the country’s 600 adult female prison inmates have been imprisoned for similar “offences”.
Heather Barr, Human Rights Watch’s Afghanistan researcher, who has spent the past month visiting female prisoners for an upcoming report on “moral crimes”, welcomed the release of Gulnaz and said she hoped there was a review of all the cases of female prisoners.
“There are hundreds of women in this situation and it is well overdue to look at the injustices done to them,” she said.
“I have interviewed 58 of them in the past month and have heard the same types of stories of forced marriages, beatings, sexual assaults, and when they flee these abuses and report them, they are locked up.”Barr agreed it was possible that the Karzai administration had been encouraged to look at some of the serious human rights problems that remain in Afghanistan in the runup to Monday’s Bonn conference, and hoped it would remain on the agenda once that concludes. The European Union, which has remained largely silent in the face of mounting publicity about the case said it was delighted about news of Gulnaz’s release.
The European Union’s ambassador and special representative to Afghanistan, Vygaudas Usackas, said: “Her case has served to highlight the plight of Afghan women, who, 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban regime, often continue to suffer in unimaginable conditions, deprived of even the most basic human rights.
“Highlighting and improving the lives of Afghan women is one of the most important tasks of the EU’s mission in Afghanistan.”