An Afghan woman who was jailed after being raped by a cousin has been released from the Kabul prison where she has spent more than two years, although her lawyer has warned her future remains far from certain.
Gulnaz, a 20-year-old who is known by one name, was set free on Tuesday night, nearly two weeks after Hamid Karzai, the Afghanistan president, ordered her release. Her case has highlighted the issue of “moral crimes”, which lawyers say have no basis in Afghan law.
Despite being the victim of a rape at the hands of a cousin, a day labourer called Asadullah Sher Mohammad, she was charged with “adultery” after reporting the attack to police and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
For two years and three months Gulnaz had been living in the Badam Bagh prison in Kabul with her nine-month-old daughter, who was conceived by the rape.
Karzai had come under growing pressure in the weeks leading up to the recent conference on Afghanistan held in Bonn to release Gulnaz, who has become a symbol of the highly conservative Islamic country’s failure to substantially improve the lot of women in the last 10 years.
Although the government said she would be released without any conditions, she has come under heavy pressure, including from a judge, to marry Sher Mohammad, who is in another prison in Kabul serving a rape sentence.
Kimberley Motley, an Kabul-based American lawyer who has worked on Gulnaz’s case, said she had “major concerns” about the extraordinary pressure her client has come under since Karzai announced her clemency — including from Sher Mohammad’s father.
“He was allowed to have continued access to her while she was in prison, and he has been in there in the last five days to try and make her sign a document,” she said. “We have no idea what this document is, and neither does she because she was unable to read it.”
No decision has been made whether Gulnaz, who has been moved to a safe place in Kabul that her supporters do not wish to be identified, will agree to marry her attacker, although she has previously said she might do so for the sake of her daughter.
She has also demanded a dowry before agreeing to marry her attacker, and suggested that one of Sher Mohammad’s sisters should marry her brother in order to protect her from reprisals.
Motley said she should not have to marry her rapist. “There are women in Afghanistan who are single mothers who are able to work and to survive,” she said. “She definitely has an uphill battle to fight, but it is ridiculous to say that if she does not marry this man her life is ruined.”
Efforts to bring her plight to public attention were first made by Clementine Malpas, a British film-maker who was commissioned by the European Union to produce a documentary about women’s rights in Afghanistan.
The EU, however, refused to allow the film, called Injustice, to be distributed or broadcast, saying it would jeopardise the lives of the women involved. —