Family says Afghan law helps protect abusers

Family of abused woman decry new law that would forbid relatives of accused from being questioned as witnesses.

The proposed amendment would stop relatives of accused from being questioned as witnesses [Al Jazeera]

Herat – By the time her husband had begun to tear away at her nose and lip, Setara says she was already rendered unconscious by the pain of the brutal beating that had preceded it.

Her two daughters, Parisa, 12 and Somaya, 10, were the only direct witnesses to the violence their father had incurred on their mother that December night, Setara tells Al Jazeera.

They were also the only two, the mother says, to spot the aluminum foil their father had discarded after feeding a years-long heroin addiction in a quiet corner of their Herat province home.

Though the two girls are still haunted by what they saw on the night of December 12, last year, a new draft of Afghanistan’s criminal procedure law could render their recollections of that night irrelevant in a court of law.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the draft contains an article which states that: “The following people cannot be questioned as witnesses … relatives of the accused.”

To human rights activists, if Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, signs the bill into law it would be a major setback in trying cases like Setara’s.

The outcry surrounding the criminal procedure law, passed by parliament last year, is not the first time the Karzai government has come under domestic and international pressure after passing laws which are seen by many as attacks on women’s rights. 

In 2009, the government was subject to a vocal outcry at home and abroad for passing the Shia Family Law, which contained a controversial provision that negated sexual consent between married couples.

Failed to read legislation

A month after the law gained international attention, Karzai would go on to amend the controversial article in question, after saying he had not “read” the initial legislation prior to signing it. 

Three years later, HRW called on the Karzai government to release 400 girls and women they said were imprisoned on charges of ‘moral crimes‘, including running away from home and sex outside marriage.

In the summer of 2013 it was Fawzia Koofi, a female MP who at the time was seen as a potential contender for the presidency, that came under fire from rights groups after she pushed for parliamentary ratification of a presidential decree for the elimination of violence against women.

Women’s rights activists said the 20-minute parliamentary debate in May put the Elimination of Violence Against Women law – passed as a presidential decree in 2009 – at risk of being thrown out entirely.

However, with a recent UN report citing a 28 per cent increase in violence against Afghan women, most of which occur in the home, rights activists fear this law will only serve to embolden an increasing number of people who face little, if any, retribution for their crimes.

Day in court

With her husband having fled the scene while their four children went to alert the neighbours, Setara’s family told Al Jazeera that if approved, the amendment to the Criminal Prosecution Law would rob them of a right they have not yet been given.

“Of course I want to go to the court and expose him for what he is,” said Nasima, Setara’s mother.

For Setara, a trial would be an important step not only for her, but all battered women in Afghanistan.

“Whenever a woman is abused people will say: ‘if you were a good wife to him he would have no reason to hit you,’ but what does anyone know of what goes on behind the four walls of someone’s home?” she says.

Still, even if the case does ever go to court, the family say without the children’s testimony it would all be for naught. 

“Where, tell me where will I find another witness,” Setara asked in frustration.


With her husband accused of both domestic violence and addiction, both crimes which are rarely known of outside one’s household anywhere in the world, Setara knows her fears are not misplaced.

Though Setara’s neighbours said they never knew her husband to be an addict, Parisa and Somaya say they witnessed their father smoking heroin that night.

“He had just finished his chai. He went into a corner room, like he always did, to take his ‘medicine’,” the girls told Al Jazeera of the hours leading to the attack.

Even with her case having earned the attention of everyone from Sayed Faziullah Wadidi, governor of the Western province, to Abdullah Abdullah, presidential candidate – and the ministries of interior and narcotics, Setara said this potential amendment to the Criminal Prosecution Law proves that the government isn’t working for the interest of the Afghan people.

“No one who wants for the goodness of their country would ever pass a law like this,” said Setara.