Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, April 20th, 2018

Gulnaz: Punished for Demanding Freedom

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Gulnaz: Punished for Demanding Freedom

In the documentary, In-Justice, the twenty-one year old Gulnaz speaks about how she was savagely raped by her cousin's husband after he tied her hands and feet and held her mouth shut. She was impregnated and she reported the rape. Instead of being rewarded with justice for being brave enough to speaking about an issue so taboo, she was sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment after the rapist's family paid the prosecutor and the judge. Her sentence was later decreased to three years.

The European Union commissioned the production of In-Justice, but later decided not to allow its screenings supposedly because of the security of the subjects. However an EU official sent out an email to the filmmakers that contained a suggestion that there was real fear that publicizing the movie could create problems with the Afghan government.

In the documentary, clearly understanding the need to break the silence, Gulnaz says, "I am happy if the documentary is on TV. I want the government to see it. I want the entire Afghan people to see it." The Afghan judicial officials violated Gulnaz's right to justice and her wish to be heard was ignored by the European Union.

The documentary was silenced but a group of activists followed up with Gulnaz's case. A petition was created and signed by 5,000 people in a matter of a week demanding the freedom of Gulnaz. President Karzai called a high-level judiciary meeting to discuss Gulnaz's case. There were high hopes that the meeting would lead to the freedom and safety of Gulnaz, however what followed was acutely disappointing.

President Karzai "pardoned" Gulnaz for committing no crime, for being raped and imprisoned, for being humiliated and threatened and for raising her voice for justice. He also declared, after the meeting, that Gulnaz had the right to make the decision to stay in jail or not, and hence indirectly made it clear that she was safe only in prison and if she exited, it would be her decision and she would suffer the consequences. In addition to that, he asked the Minister of Justice to meet with Gulnaz and the rapist to figure out whether she wants to marry him to legitimize her daughter.

This is while Gulnaz fears her rapist's family and relative. The rapist's wife has already threatened Gulnaz that she will kill Gulnaz and her daughter and his family has made it clear that they will never forgive her and her daughter for the so-called dishonor she has brought them. Through the arrangement by the President, Gulnaz was given two choices, to marry her rapist or stay in prison with her daughter.

Pressured by her rapist's family to preserve their son's so-called honor and now the President and Minister of Justice, Gulnaz has agreed to marry her rapist, but the real question is how much of this is really a choice.

If she is not legitimized, Gulnaz's daughter will be ostracized by the society, she will not be able to get a national ID because the national ID requires the father's background, and hence she will never be able to get a credible high school education or a diploma and she will never be able to work legitimately at any governmental organization, but her legitimization comes with a price to her mother.

Gulnaz will wake up beside the man who raped her, caused her imprisonment and threatened to kill her and destroy her body if she spoke about the rape if she is not killed after being freed from prison. In either case, the rapist will still be free and have a wife and a life, and his crimes will be left unpunished. However, if Gulnaz marries him, he will be rewarded for raping a woman. 

Gulnaz's story points out to several greave problems with the Government of Afghanistan and the judiciary system. Starting with the corruption that lead to her imprisonment and ending with her being married to the man who raped her are all examples of how the government is not much better than the tribal courts that ordered for Aisha's nose to be cut off.

Gulnaz is not losing her ears or nose, but she is losing her freedom forever by being married to her rapist, if she is not killed when she arrives her probably-future-husband's house. If she is murdered, her case will be forgotten like the poet, Nadia Anjuman, and hundreds of other women who have been killed for an ambiguous and male-oriented "honor" and she will be blamed for it because she was given a "choice" to stay in prison, to be "safe." There is little doubt that the same man will not rape her again if she is married to him and at his disposal. Also, who knows if her daughter will be safe from the man?

There are alternatives to this injustice, alternatives that the President and the Minister of Justice apparently doesn't see. There are several shelters in Kabul, which contradictory to the lies and rumors spread about them, provide safety to women like Gulnaz.

For example, Sabera, 18, is now living in a shelter in Kabul after she fled a forced marriage to a 52-year-old abusive man. There are hundreds of women like Sabera who are learning to read and write and make crafts in a hidden shelter somewhere in Afghanistan.

They are being re-integrated into the society slowly and given means of economic stability. Gulnaz could have been given this alternative, rather than the choices of remaining in prison or marrying the man who raped her. If for some reason none of the shelters were deemed as safe as her rapist's house for Gulnaz by the President, he could easily arrange for her to seek asylum out of the country.

The big picture of Gulnaz's case is that if she is married to her rapist, in addition to the fact that her freedom and safety will be gone, her case will reaffirm and legitimize the backwards and misogynist practice of marrying women to their rapists in Afghanistan and perpetuate the unjust belief that rape is not about the violation of a woman's rights and dignity, but a matter of family honor and to preserve the family honor, one better do what the President and many others in the country suggest.

If Gulnaz is married to her rapist, if she consents to it because she is provided no other alternative, it will be a message to other violators of women's rights and rapists. The clear message is: "Rape. The President will make sure you will marry the woman after she is impregnated and imprisoned. It will even save you a lot of money given you won't have to pay for marriage costs!"

Noorjahan Akbar is an aspiring Afghan writer, women and children rights activist, currently studying in the US. She can be reached at Akbarnoorjahan@gmail.com

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