Sahar Gul was sold into “marriage” at age 12. Her in-laws tortured her in an attempt to force her into prostitution.
The torture began shortly after her brother sold her to the family for an underage wedding, when she baulked at the family’s effort to force her into prostitution. Her new husband did not participate in the abuse, but nor did he try to stop his father, mother and sister.
By the end of her ordeal she was so weak she had to be rescued from her makeshift prison in a wheelbarrow.
The in-laws were prosecuted and convicted but now they’ve been released.
Human rights activists have warned of an new assault on women’s rights in Afghanistan after judges and prosecutors allowed the early release of three people convicted for the brutal torture of a child bride, and conservative lawmakers made an aggressive bid to prevent relatives testifying against each other.
If successful, the small change – introduced covertly into the criminal prosecution code – would stop the vast majority of cases of violence against women from ever reaching court.
Together with the quashing of three convictions for the attempted murder of the teenager Sahar Gul, it marks an alarming two-pronged assault on women’s rights by both those who make the laws and those tasked with upholding them.
“Conservative” seems an odd and inadequate word to describe “lawmakers” who want to see young girls sold into bogus “marriage” and their in-laws free to torture them into prostitution. How exactly is that “conservative”? Does Afghanistan have a proud tradition of torturing girls, forcing girls into prostitution, doing nothing when the in-laws of girls sold into marriage torture them nearly to death? Is that what the lawmakers are conserving?
The 10-year sentences handed down to Gul’s tormentors last year was hailed as an important step forward, after her case horrified Afghanistan and prompted a bout of national soul-searching.
She was sold as a wife when she was an illiterate 12-year-old and her in-laws wasted little time embarking on a campaign of almost unimaginable torture. They starved her, chained her in a basement bathroom, beat her, burned her with red-hot metal pipes and pulled her fingernails out.
By the end of her ordeal she could no longer walk, and was rescued from her makeshift prison in a wheelbarrow. But last week, according to her lawyer and women’s activists, a court ordered the release of Gul’s mother-in-law, father-in-law, and sister-in-law saying there was no proof of abuse.
“This was based on the idea that there was no evidence, but the people who would have given evidence didn’t know that the hearing was taking place,” said Kimberley Motley, a Kabul-based US lawyer who took on Gul’s case last week after learning of the release.
Judges ignored the fact that the courtroom was almost empty, with apparently no representation from government prosecutors or the victim, even though both should have been informed under Afghan law.
That, too, does not seem very “conservative.” It seems more like heads we win, tails you lose.
However terrifying women’s advocates find the quashing of sentences for Sahar Gul’s tormentors, the legal changes that some MPs are hoping to bring to the country’s criminal prosecution code, now travelling through parliament, would have stopped the case even reaching court.
They have added a provision to clause 1 of article 26, which lists people who cannot be questioned as witnesses. “Relatives of the accused” are now grouped with small children, the accused’s defence lawyer and others, according to one source who has seen a draft of the law.
Qazi Nazir Ahmad Hanafi, a conservative MP who has been a driving force in efforts to quash a landmark law on violence against women, confirmed to the Guardian that the provision had been added to a draft of the code that recently went through the lower house of parliament. It would still need to be passed by the upper house and signed by the president to become law.
Women’s rights activists and female MPs who are outspoken about women’s rights said they were not aware of the change, which still has to be approved by the upper house, but the head of the UN’s human rights unit warned it could make prosecution of violence against women “almost impossible”.
It’s always depressing to realize how passionately women are hated.