Anger at Women Prisoner Amnesty

Conservatives condemn reprieve for women imprisoned for adultery and elopement.

Anger at Women Prisoner Amnesty

Conservatives condemn reprieve for women imprisoned for adultery and elopement.

Wednesday, 2 March, 2005

The release of 20 female prisoners from a Kabul jail, as part of the traditional Ramadan pardon, was intended as a symbolic liberation of Afghan women, but the move drew criticism in rural, conservative areas of the country.

The majority of the women had been imprisoned for “social” crimes such as adultery or running away with men who had not been chosen by their families. There are dozens of men in jail charged with the same sort of offences, though none of them were granted an amnesty.

“Up to now we have not been given any special decree by Hamed Karzai to release male prisoners," said Deputy Minister of Interior Hilaluddin Hilal.

Interior ministry officials warn that women and men will continue to be arrested for "social" crimes.

Such misdemeanours, particularly amongst the former, have increased since the beginning of the interim administration. Many women lost husbands, fathers and brothers during the civil wars and because of that “there is no one to control them”, according to Ghulam Sakhi Fekri, a senior official at police headquarters.

“When the interim administration granted women more rights, they were happy but most of them used their new found freedom in a negative way.”

Not all the women charged with "social" crimes were pardoned. Eleven remain in custody and "their files are being investigated," said chief of police, Abdul Baseer Salangi.

The former wept and pleaded with officials as the amnestied prisoners were set free. "We didn't know any government officials - that's why we are still here, " one cried out. Another fell at Salangi's feet and said, "For God's sake, brothers, please let us out. Our children are at home without a mother. We are not guilty. We cannot suffer this way."

A number of the released women, some of whom had been detained for more than seven months, had kept their children with them in the prison because there was no one else to care for them. Conditions in the crowded and unsanitary Kabul women’s jail have been criticised by the United Nations and human rights groups.

Salima, one of the women released by the authorities, left home after her fiancé married someone else. She said her family still wanted her to marry him, but she refused and ran away.

Gul Afroz, another amnestied prisoner, said she had been wrongly accused of adultery because she was going out frequently in secret to arrange a marriage for her son.

But after she had been in prison for some time, her family became convinced of her innocence. “They realised what really happened now, which is why they’ve put so much effort into trying to get me released,” she said.

Karzai’s symbolic action, though addressing complaints of human rights groups, was not necessarily popular with Afghans.

A teacher in Kabul, Gul Sanga, explained, “In the rural life of our district, women are brought up with very high, brave and honorable principles. If a girl runs away with someone or commits adultery, she knows she risks being executed.

“Instead of forgiving them, Karzai should have punished these women so that others would not commit such crimes.”

Crimes involving sexual contact between unmarried couples are considered such a disgrace that, to redeem their honor, members of the families involved sometimes mete out their own punishment.

Meher Negar, one of the women released, said she didn’t want to leave jail. “I can’t go home because my brothers and father will kill me,” she said. “I have no future. I don’t know what will happen next.”

Rohullah Babakarkhel and Shoib Safi are independent journalists in Kabul.

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