Pardon for Afghan woman jailed as rape victim

Victim attacked by a family member but then jailed for adultery to be freed with no pre-conditions, her lawyer says.

Afghanistan has pardoned a woman who was raped by a family member but then jailed for adultery, a statement from the presidential palace has said.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, issued the statement pardoning Gulnaz late on Thursday, a rare pardon in such a case in staunchly conservative Muslim Afghanistan.

“In just one week, we have seen two cases of more than four women raped, acid thrown on their faces and all by local commanders

– Wazhma Frogh,
gender and development specialist

Her case attracted international attention after she took part in a documentary film commissioned by the European Union but later withheld.

The 21-year-old-woman had initially agreed to the condition she marry her attacker, her cousin’s husband, under an earlier release offer but Kimberly Motley, one of her lawyers, told Al Jazeera the release granted this week did not depend on her going through with the marriage.

“Her release is not conditional,” Motley said.

Her attacker is serving a seven-year prison term for the crime.

Motley said she hoped her client would be released shortly, and that there was a place for her in a women’s shelter.

‘Adultery by force’

The palace statement said Habibullah Ghalib, the justice minister, asked a panel of senior legal officials to order her release.

Gulnaz sought a pardon from Karzai earlier this week.

“After assessing Gulnaz’s case, [they] decided that her remaining sentence in jail should be pardoned under the current rules and regulations of the country and she should be released,” the palace statement said.

Human rights activists say Afghan women are still denied even the most basic human rights [GALLO/GETTY]

Gulnaz was initially sentenced to two years in jail for “adultery by force”, which was later increased to 12 years on
appeal. She was given the choice of marriage or serving a jail sentence.

Her sentence was then cut to three years after a third appeal, and the requirement for her to marry was dropped.

Gulnaz became pregnant as a result of the attack and gave birth to a daughter in the Badam Bagh women’s prison in Kabul almost a year ago.

Motley also welcomed what she said was a decision to review the cases of other women in the same jail.

“The judiciary has effectively supported the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act by allowing for her to be released, for allowing for her to be pardoned,” Motley said.

“Precedent definitely has been set. As I understand it, the judiciary today was also reviewing the files of other women in Badam Bagh,” she said.

The presidential palace declined to comment on whether other cases were under review.

‘Motivated by honour’

In an interview with Al Jazeera, gender and development specialist, Wazhma Frogh, says the initially proposed conditions are indicative of “a very settlement-oriented legal system” in Afghanistan.

Motley said initial reports of Gulnaz agreeing to marry her attacker, may have been motivated by honour.

“She wants to protect herself. Protect her daughter. She thought that by marrying her attacker that may be the best way to restore her honour,” says Motley of initial reports that Gulnaz had agreed to marry her attacker.

Motley said she is still trying to ascertain whether the attacker will also be released if they agree to marry.

The government of Afghanistan says they are going to take control of women’s shelters [Al Jazeera]

Frogh says the ministry of justice in Afghanistan “has a very conservative outlook about the cases of rape,” which may have been another reason why there were initial reports of Gulnaz’s agreement to the condition.

The film in which Gulnaz featured, a documentary on women in prison, was blocked from release by the EU mission in Afghanistan over fears it might compromise the safety of the women involved because it showed their identity.

The film-makers have been pushing for the film to be released, and say Gulnaz wanted her story to be told.

“I made a promise to these women that I would get their stories out. I am glad that I’ve been able to honour that promise to Gulnaz,” said the film’s director Clementine Malpas.

“I still hope that our film can be released, so people can hear the stories of the other women, and perhaps increase their chance of getting justice as well.”

Lynne O’Donnell, an EU spokesperson, welcomed news Gulnaz would be freed but declined to comment on whether the film would be released.

Gulnaz’s case had been condemned widely by human rights groups. An online petition started by Motley has been signed by more than 6,000 people.

The efforts to gain clemency for Gulnaz, says Motley, “wasn’t an international effort. This was an international and Afghan effort.”

Moral crimes

Half of all Afghan women in prison have been charged with moral crimes. “I have seen hundreds of women imprisoned after [they] complained of having been raped … There is nothing new about Gulnaz’s case”, Frogh said.

Two reports released by British aid agencies in October said gains made for women’s rights in the decade-long war in Afghanistan may be under threat as international troops prepare to pull out and the government pursues talks with the Taliban.  

Frogh says violence against women has increased, due in part to “political decisions of the Afghan government and its allies”.

“In just one week, we have seen two cases of more than four women raped, acid thrown on their faces and all by local commanders,” Frogh told Al Jazeera.

Motley, who is serving as Gulnaz’s co-council along with an Afghan lawyer says “enough Afghans and internationals are working independently” for there to be hope for Afghanistan past 2014’s international troop withdrawal.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies