After lobbying from international groups, an Afghan woman who was raped by a relative and given a 12-year jail sentence has been pardoned by President Hamid Karzai. The idea that rape victims are being jailed for adultery is already sickening, but brace yourself because it gets worse: She's only being released because she's agreed to marry the man who raped her.
19-year-old Gulnaz (NPR notes that like many Afghans she uses one name) became known across the world after she participated in an EU-funded documentary about women's rights in Afghanistan. The film was never released due to fears for the women's safety, but the details of her case have come out: Gulnaz was sentenced to 12 years in jail for adultery after her cousin's husband raped her. Her sentence was later reduced to three years, just as her rapist's 12-year term was cut down to seven years. Gulnaz became pregnant from the rape, and for the past two and a half years she's been in jail, raising their daughter.
Earlier, Gulnaz refused a judge's offer to free her if she'd agreed to marry her rapist, but apparently she's changed her mind. Now the Afghan government is insisting the marriage isn't a condition of her release, but it's not like she's in a position to exercise free choice. Clementine Malpas, the director of the documentary, told The Guardian:
"She has told me that the rapist had destroyed her life because no one else would marry her after what happened to her ... 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 Afghan culture unwed mothers can "legitimize" a birth by marrying the child's father, even if he's a rapist. In the film, Gulnaz says she'll never forgive her attacker, but adds, "I don't want people to call [my daughter] a bastard and abuse my brothers. My brothers won't have honour in our society until he marries me."
Gulnaz is the most high-profile incarcerated Afghan woman, but her story isn't unusual. As the Washington Post reports, about half of all female prisoners in the country have been jailed for "moral crimes," i.e. horrible offenses like being raped or daring to flee domestic violence. The BBC reports on women in Afghanistan's prisons in this news clip, which includes an interview with Gulnaz.
Vygaudas Usackas, the EU's Ambassador and Special Representative to Afghanistan, said he was "delighted" to hear Gulnaz is being release, adding:
"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 ... While we applaud the release of Gulnaz, on the orders of President Karzai, it is the hope of the European Union that the same mercy that has been extended to Gulnaz is applied to all women in similar circumstances."
We'll save our applause for when women in Gulnaz's situation are actually freed, not given the choice of prison and lifelong condemnation or marriage to the man who abused them.
Afghan Rape Victim Pardoned After Agreeing To Marry Her Attacker [NPR]
Afghan President Pardons Imprisoned Rape Victim [AP]
Afghan Woman To Be Freed From Jail After Agreeing To Marry Rapist [The Guardian]
Afghan Woman Freed From Jail After Agreeing To Marry Rapist [Washington Post]