An Afghan woman, known only as Gulnaz, was imprisoned in 2009 for “adultery,” but the punishment did not fit the crime.
Today, it was announced she would finally be set free.
Gulnaz was raped by her cousin’s husband, became pregnant, and gave birth to her daughter. In Afghan law, adultery is a crime punishable by years in prison.
Gulnaz’s story became known internationally when the European Union made, then refused to air, a documentary about Afghan women in prison for moral crimes. The Union did not air the documentary, citing safety issues for the women in the video.
“What you see when you talk with women who are in prison for what are called moral crimes here…some have been accused of zina, which is an act of sex between two people who aren’t married to each other," said a report by Human Rights Watch.
The term “zina” does not distinguish between consensual and nonconsensual sexual activity, thus leading to the problem of arresting rape victims. In Gulnaz’s case, both she and her rapist were sentenced to 12 years, with her attacker’s sentence being reduced to 7 years after appeal.
The Justice Ministry offered to release Gulnaz, provide that she marry her attacker. There were early reports that she had accepted the deal. Kimberley Motley, Gulnaz’s lawyer, announced at 2:25 p.m. that the Justice Ministry decided to release Gulnaz without condition. Motley said Gulnaz is likely to receive a full pardon from the government.
Gulnaz’s story is precedent setting. Never before has a woman had the option to decide whether to remain in the “safety” of prison or go free. While freedom may seem to be the logical choice, women in Afghan prison often face serious threats once released.
Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch explained that “Quite a few of them [female prisoners] feel like they’re going to be forced back into the abusive situation that they escaped from and some have said very clearly that they expect their families are likely to kill them, because they’ve brought shame on their families by ending up in prison.”
Gulnaz’s lawyer assured CNN that she has a “safe place” to go. Motley would not reveal any details of where it may be, insisting that she wants to protect her client as much as possible.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with women at a summit in 2010. She made clear her stand on the situation of women in Afghanistan.
“I also want to emphasize the importance of President Karzai’s statement that the rights of women…will not be sacrificed,” said Clinton.
Women in Afghanistan protested Karzai’s pardoning of men accused of gang rape as well as a law that they felt allowed for marital rape.
“The government’s failure to take attacks and threats against women seriously greatly increases the threats that women face by creating a permissive culture,” said Human Rights Watch.
Motley reported that Gulnaz’s case might have a lasting effect on the women of Afghanistan. She told a CNN anchor that the Justice Ministry was ordered to look at all the cases of women in prison on moral charges.