Brutalised Child Prodigy Driven to Murder

Domestic violence appears to have driven one of the country’s most gifted young men to kill his father.

Brutalised Child Prodigy Driven to Murder

Domestic violence appears to have driven one of the country’s most gifted young men to kill his father.

Monday, 21 February, 2005

He could read and write at the age of two and a half, and by five he was studying at a teacher’s college. As a 10-year-old, Sayed Azam was accepted to medical school in Kabul.


But seven years later, Afghanistan’s boy genius is in jail for killing his father, Sayed Mohammad Iqbal, with a mallet. The murder was the culmination of a lifetime of abuse – and revenge for his mother’s death.


Iqbal killed his wife in March 2002. He had also assaulted his own mother – breaking her teeth - burned his nephew on a hot stove and beaten his children almost daily, Azam and other family members say.


Domestic violence is not uncommon in Afghan families, but women are usually afraid to speak out against their husbands. Azam carried on as the dutiful son, selling water from a cart to help support the family even after he’d received scholarships and awards for his genius. But he could not forgive or forget the death of his mother.


“I can remember that since my childhood, my father has been having quarrels and clashes with my mother, and would beat my mother hard when he had been drinking wine,” he told IWPR from his jail cell.


“Eventually, after a particularly hard beating, he suffocated my mother. My father attacked her again ruthlessly, claiming that she was playing a trick on him – even though blood was flowing from her mouth. When we took her to Rabia Balkhi hospital, she breathed her last before my eyes.”


Azam finally ran away from home last autumn, but continued to meet with his younger sisters - aged six and 11 - in secret. Azam’s aunt and two other siblings had also moved out of the house because of the continual violence.


On the day of the murder, his sisters came running to him, crying and saying that their father had burned them on the stove.


“I asked my sisters to go and clean the shop as usual,” Azam recalled. “Because my father routinely sleeps till 10’o clock, I took advantage of the opportunity and went to the house. I saw a mallet lying in the corner of his room. I suddenly picked it up and struck my father three times on his head until he was dead.”


Saleem Zarmati, the police chief of the second district station in Kabul, told IWPR that when they came to arrest Azam, he immediately confessed. “He showed the corner of the rooms where the corpse was buried, and we dug out the dead body,” he said.


Azam’s grandmother told IWPR that her son, Iqbal, deserved to be killed because of the violence he inflicted on his family. “As a responsible mother I raised him, but this heartless man drove me out of the house, broke my teeth and killed my daughter-in-law.


“If I were able, I would have killed him myself because he was so callous.”


The family now can only hope that Azam – who is awaiting sentencing pending completion of the attorney general’s investigation - will be spared. Since he is only 17-years-old, he is not eligible for the death penalty, but could be given a long jail term.


His waiting family sadly pores over photos and clippings from newspapers and magazines that detail the incredible promise he showed.


An article by Agence France-Presse, published in December 1995, describes Azam, then aged 10, as “the serious child with the haunted look in his eyes”. The article describes how as a three-year-old he offered to teach literacy classes for women. It quotes the head of the biology faculty describing Azam as having an IQ of about 180.


Azam said at the time that he loved studying medicine and didn’t mind selling water to help the family. “I have nothing else to do anyway, I don’t get on very well with children of my age because they don’t seem to understand what I’m talking about,” he told AFP.


Sayed Naeem Agha, a teacher at Roshan Pedagogy Institute, still remembers the boy well. At the age of four, Azam appeared before Agha and a committee of other teachers to be evaluated. They were amazed by his gifts, and declared him a genius.


After studying for only a year, the boy’s level of knowledge was equivalent to that of a high school graduate, and the education ministry awarded him a stipend to allow him to continue his studies, as his father was only a poor shopkeeper.


A photograph of Azam at the time shows the child standing on a desk so that he was the same height as his physics teacher, with whom he was discussing Einstein’s theory of relativity.


Agha remembers his star student as a quiet, dutiful boy. He told IWPR that Azam had frequent nosebleeds, probably due to his poor health.


“We didn’t hear even a bad word from him,” Agha said. “On the contrary he would go to the more senior classes and help with the teaching.”


But the years of civil war destroyed the educational system, and Agha lost track of what had happened to the boy. He was shocked to hear the news of Iqbal’s murder and Azam’s confession. “[I hope that] that the justice system will try to understand and take his past into consideration,” he said.


Observers are only too aware that such a tragedy could have been averted. Even after the fall of the hard line Taleban regime, few Afghan women realise that they have rights and can defend themselves through the courts if they face violence at home.


According to Afghan attorney general Mahmood Daqiq, “If a husband is caught beating his wife or his family, he will be punished according to the rules.


“Women who are uneducated usually don’t disclose such beatings to the court. When a wife is assaulted for the first time, she often feels it would bring shame on the family to file a complaint against her husband.


“In this way, her husband is not prevented from beating her and will do so again and again until she dies.


“This is the fault of the women themselves, because after the first act of violence against them, they should inform the court. A husband would not dare beat his wife again having been warned by the law.”


Farida Nekzad is an independent journalist in Kabul.


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