A senior judge has been convicted of bribery and fired from his position after a perversion of justice exposed the invasiveness of corruption within Afghan society.
Zahoruddin, a 65-year-old judge in the country's eastern Nangarhar Province, who like many Afghans goes only by one name, was convicted on December 19 of bribery and corruption charges stemming from a young woman's divorce case.
Zahoruddin and another judge apparently became aware that Dewa, a 22-year-old freelance journalist, had filed for divorce and conspired to extort bribes from her in exchange for ensuring her request was granted.
Zahoruddin contacted Dewa, offering to help. But upon meeting with the young woman, he demanded more than $2,000 in bribes. When his offer was refused, he offered an alternative -- entering a life of wealthy matrimony with none other than the judge himself.
Unknown to the judge was that Dewa had come to the meeting armed with a hidden recording device. She recorded the entire 15-minute exchange. Dewa sent the recording of their conversation to the Supreme Court in Kabul and a criminal investigation ensued.
Second Judge Investigated
Zahoruddin strenuously denied the allegations against him, insisting that his marriage proposal was merely a "joke." Upon being confronted with the evidence, the judge accused Dewa of fabricating the evidence as part of a conspiracy to discredit him.
He said I wouldn't be alive to enjoy my freedom.
Despite his pleas, Zahoruddin was convicted on December 19 of bribery and corruption by a court in Nangarhar's capital, Jalalabad. It was not immediately clear whether he received a jail sentence.
Fazil Hadi Fazil, the chief justice of the appeals court in Nangarhar, said police are also investigating another judge, Tahir Rohani, who was presiding over Dewa's divorce case. In his testimony, Zahoruddin said he and Rohani had hatched a plan to split the bribe money.
"Our superiors are very serious about these kinds of allegations," Fazil says. "Judge Tahir Rohani, who is a senior judge at the family court in Nangarhar, is being investigated and questioned by the Supreme Court. The court will soon reach a verdict in that case."
Dewa, who has spent the last few weeks in hiding in Kabul, has welcomed the verdict. Her divorce case, however, has yet to be resolved.
Dewa claims that, after revealing the secret recording of her conversation with Zahoruddin, she received a death threat from the judge. Out of concerns for her safety, police put her in a safe house in Kabul, where she remained during the police investigation and subsequent trial.
"When my story became public, I received a phone call not long after," Dewa says. "[Zahoruddin] told me 'You got what you wanted, and now you have dishonored me in front of everyone.' He said I wouldn't be alive to enjoy my freedom."
'Shower Her With Gold'
Dewa says her ordeal began last month when she filed her divorce papers at a courthouse in Jalalabad. Within days, Dewa says, she received Zahoruddin's offer to help and set up a meeting.
After refusing his bribe request, Dewa says, the marital offer came. Zahoruddin boasted about how his standing as a judge could protect her and offered her a solid financial future. In the course of the 15-minute recording, Zahoruddin can be heard saying he would "shower her with gold." The judge is also heard repeating his marriage proposal some 15 times.
His marital advances spurned, the judge left and swore he would ensure Dewa's divorce papers would never be formalized.
Despite Zahoruddin's conviction, Dewa says the media attention surrounding the case has exposed her to possible retaliation. Even so, Dewa says she has no regrets about doing her part to expose rampant corruption in the country.
"I raised my voice because I wanted to stand up against and get rid of corruption," she says. "I want the government to help me with my security so that my life is not in danger. I've left my hometown in Nangarhar Province and I can't go back."
Integrity Watch Afghanistan, a local nongovernmental organization, estimates that Afghans, who have consistently identified corruption as among their biggest concerns, collectively pay bribes amounting to $1 billion a year, about 5 percent of the country's entire annual gross domestic product.
Zahoruddin's conviction is a rare success story. Despite President Hamid Karzai's repeated promises to clean up corruption, analysts say there have been few results from his initiatives, citing the government's failure to prosecute a single high-level corruption case.
Written by Frud Bezhan, based on reporting by RFE/RL's Afghan Service