POL-E KHOMRI, Afghanistan -- The torture endured by a 15-year-old newlywed allegedly at the hands of her husband and in-laws has shocked Afghan officials and the world alike.
The wounds, bruises, and scars that cover Sahar Gul's battered body provide gruesome evidence of the abuse Gul has endured in the six months since being sold into marriage far from home with a man twice her age.
Her left eye is nearly sealed shut; her right leg is wrapped in gauze; fingers are broken, and some of her nails have been pulled out. Still, all of it is an improvement from last week, when police found her near death when they arrived to free her from the dark basement where she was being held.
At a hospital in Pol-e Khomri, the capital of the northern Baghlan province, where she first underwent treatment after the rescue, Gul could barely muster a reply to questions posed by a local official, Rahima Zarifi.
"My father-in-law, sisters-in-law, [and] brother-in-law used to beat me," she responded to Zarifi's question. She accused them of abusing her with pincers and said her mother-in-law pulled out clumps of her hair and tore out her fingernails.
Gul's neighbors in her new town told RFE/RL, on condition of anonymity, that her in-laws began beating her soon after she arrived from Badakhshan Province to marry their 30-year-old son, Ghulam Sakhi, a soldier in the Afghan military.
They described hearing of how Gul's father died when she was young and her mother remarried. For a price of $5,000, they say, she was handed over as a bride.
Some locals suggest she was tortured by her in-laws because they wanted to force her into prostitution.
But Zarifi, the director of the local Women's Affairs Ministry in Baghlan, said it was still unclear why she was tormented. But she was quick to add that the emotional and physical scars were obvious.
She said Gul "was tortured continuously, every three or four days," since she was married a half-year ago.
"Her condition is very bad. When somebody lifts her left hand, she screams loudly. Maybe it is broken," Zarifi said. "She also has a worsening skin infection. The doctors think it might be contagious. She also has psychological problems and is very stressed."
Her family in Badakhshan contacted police after they were not allowed to see or speak by phone with Gul.
Since being moved to Kabul on December 28 for better medical treatment, Gul's story has attracted national and global attention. Afghanistan is among the most dangerous places in the world for young women, with opposition to girls' education high in traditional circles, maternity deaths routine, and suicide rates high.
Afghan officials have announced that they plan to transfer Gul to a hospital in India.
President Hamid Karzai on January 1 vowed to punish those responsible.
Fazal Rahman, a police officer in Baghlan's second district, said the authorities had arrested Gul's mother-in-law and sister-in-law and were looking for her brother-in-law and father-in-law.
Afghan officials have directed the Defense Ministry to arrest Gul's husband, a soldier who is currently serving in southern Helmand Province.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has declared her ordeal to be the worst form of torture. Shamsullah Ahmadzai, the head of the commission's Kabul office, has called on authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
"We demand that law enforcement and judicial authorities vigorously pursue this case," Ahmadzai said. "The perpetrators of such heinous acts should be brought to justice, in accordance with Afghan law."
Written by RFE/RL correspondent Abubakar Siddique in Prague, based on reporting from Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents Bashir Ghazali and Hameed Mohmand in Baghlan and Kabul