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Afghanistan

Tortured Afghan Bride Defies The Odds, Embarks On New Life

Sahar Gul is recovering in a Kabul rehabilitation center after she was tortured at the hands of her husband and in-laws. Her rescuers did not expect her to live.
Sahar Gul is recovering in a Kabul rehabilitation center after she was tortured at the hands of her husband and in-laws. Her rescuers did not expect her to live.

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Afghan Girl Wants Tormentors In Prison

When we last left her, Sahar Gul was in dire straits. The 15-year-old Afghan newlywed, who was allegedly tortured by her husband and in-laws and kept in a basement for several months, was near death when she was rescued about two weeks ago.
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By Frud Bezhan and Fareba Wahidi
KABUL -- Sahar Gul, the young Afghan bride whose harrowing ordeal at the hands of her in-laws attracted international media attention, has received some solace after authorities handed down lengthy prison sentences against her tormentors.

The Kabul Sessions Court on May 1 delivered 10-year sentences against Gul's father-in-law, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law, who had been accused of imprisoning and brutally abusing the 15-year-old newlywed. Police are still looking for Gul's husband and brother, both of whom are suspects in the case.

When police in northern Baghlan Province followed a tip and rescued Gul in December, she was lying unconscious on the floor of a dark basement. Her fingers were broken, some of her nails had been torn out, patches of hair were missing, and her frail body was covered with bruises and scars.

She was so feeble and traumatized that for weeks she could barely speak.

"I wanted them to be punished," Gul said after hearing the verdicts from the court. "I want them to have their nails ripped off and for them to receive burns like they gave me. I wanted to get my divorce."

Doctors are still closely monitoring her fragile psychological condition as the teenager battles acute trauma and depression. But after enduring months of hell after being sold into marriage to a man twice her age, most of Gul's physical scars have healed and she now looks forward to achieving the big goals she has set for herself.

Resumed Her Education

Speaking from her new home in Kabul, at a shelter run by Women For Afghan Women, a nongovernmental organization that supports abused women, she is full of optimism.

Sahar Gul, pictured shortly after her rescue, says she was lashed with cables and beaten with hot irons.Sahar Gul, pictured shortly after her rescue, says she was lashed with cables and beaten with hot irons.
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Sahar Gul, pictured shortly after her rescue, says she was lashed with cables and beaten with hot irons.
Sahar Gul, pictured shortly after her rescue, says she was lashed with cables and beaten with hot irons.
She has been inspired by her newfound freedom and has resumed her education, which she was forced to abandon at the fourth grade after she was forced into marriage.

"I study and pray. When I feel like it, I go outside and sit with my friends. Then when I'm tired, I go to sleep. I sometimes play with my doll," she says. "If I can, I sit down and write and read my schoolbooks. I go to school in the afternoons."

Suriya Sobrang, head of women's affairs at Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, hopes Gul's case will set a precedent for violent crimes against women.

Sobrang admits that many Afghan women who have endured violence do not receive justice. She says the majority of such cases result in the acquittal of the perpetrators, the dropping of charges to less serious crimes, convictions with shorter sentences, and female victims themselves being accused of "moral crimes" for making private matters public.

"In relation to the case of Sahar Gul, I have to say that in the 21st century this is a crime against humanity. All the people included are criminals," Sobrang says. "Afghans should see the consequences and learn a lesson. I hope this will prevent the continuation of such violent crimes in Afghanistan."

Chilling Account

Her rescuers did not expect her to live, but against all odds she survived.

After receiving life-saving treatment at a local hospital in Baghlan, Gul was flown to Kabul, where after months of medical procedures and rehabilitation she can now move, eat, and speak freely.

Gul provides a chilling account of the six months she spent at her husband's home. 
Sahar Gul says she wants to become a doctor and a female leader.
Sahar Gul says she wants to become a doctor and a female leader.
She explains how her older brother sold her into a marriage to a 35-year-old man already married with 10 children.

With her father dead and mother remarried, Gul says she was powerless to stop her brother, who received several hundred dollars in exchange.

She says her husband and in-laws forced her to become a servant and prostitute. When she resisted, Gul says, she was abused with pincers, lashed with cables, beaten with hot irons, and tortured with electric shock.

"They wanted me to do bad things with men. They told me if I didn't, then they would kill me," Gul says. "They would bring men there [to their home] and tell me to sleep with them. I said I didn't want to do it and that I was only a child. I said all these men were like my brothers and fathers."

Gul has big plans. She dreams of completing school and even becoming involved in the country's political affairs.

She says she is determined to stop the culture of violence against women in Afghanistan, a country where domestic abuse is routine, forced marriages are the norm, and female suicide rates are among the highest in the world.

For now, though, Gul must go back to basics. For the past few weeks, she has been taking private school lessons and has been learning the Dari (Persian) alphabet.

"In the future, I want to become a doctor and a female leader," she says. "Now I'm learning the alphabet. I've learned to write auntie, uncle, brother and these kinds of words."

Written and reported by Frud Bezhan, with additional reporting by Fareba Wahidi

Frud Bezhan

Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and the broader South Asia and Middle East region. Send story tips to bezhanf@rferl.org. 

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
May 03, 2012 12:16
Islam doesn't need any help dragging it's reputation through the filth. It's doing quite well by itself.
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
May 04, 2012 00:18
The people that did this were plain criminals, Bill, and will face justice. We cannot blame that on a religion of 1 billion people, anymore than you can blame criminal acts in the USA on Christianity. Your comments need to display more of the enlightened understanding that once made the US a world leader, and be aware that this site is read by many of the Islamic faith, although they may not comment. Imagine what they are thinking right now?
In Response

by: Kursk from: New Zealand
May 05, 2012 23:00
Islam allows/condones/proscribes these types of acts to take place in a backwards culture of fear and repression rooted in the 7th century.

There is no Christian Church that would condone the trafficking of young girls for profit. Stop being an apologist for Islam.
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
May 07, 2012 23:00
Kursk, I am happy to accept anyone's point of view as long as they have read the article properly and can support what they are saying with evidence, rather than half-read the article then furnish their opinion unsupported by facts. I look forward to you citing to the readers where in the Koran it condones these types of acts, or can find one Mullah who will agree with you.
In Response

by: Rena from: M
May 04, 2012 12:27
Bill, google 'child abuse in churches', then we'll talk about reputation. You can also watch US TV to see many cases of child abuse; children are sexually abused by their own father, grandfather and yes, I'm talking about american-christian families. Open your eyes and stop blaming every criminal act on Islam!
In Response

by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
May 05, 2012 19:47
Where else in the world is it common practice for men to sell their daughters or sisters into sexual slavery and torture for a couple hundred bucks. Brings to mind a couple other muslin countries.
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
May 06, 2012 23:17
"The Kabul Sessions Court on May 1 delivered 10-year sentences against Gul's father-in-law, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law..." These sentances occured in an Islamic country - how is that Islam condoning these types of acts?
In Response

by: Jack from: US
May 04, 2012 14:32
good call Bill Webb. This country is being sunk into Talibanism by state-controlled media and government which supports Wahhabi Sunni terrorism and whose officials are on Saudi payroll. This country did not hesitate to bomb and kill Christian women and children in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Serbia. But when it comes to Islam, it suddenly becomes political correct to the bones
In Response

by: Rena from: USA
May 07, 2012 15:56
Speaking of killing women and children: here is one for you which is very recent: "A US soldier has killed more than a dozen Afghan civilians, many of them women and children, in a night-time shooting spree in southern Afghanistan"
And, speaking of the killing in the Balkans: "A series of massacres of Albanians in the Balkan Wars were committed by the Serbian and Montenegrin Army and paramilitaries, according to international reports" google these and read about them. I guess it doesn't matter what you're religion is when you murder people. That's exactly what I'm trying to explain to you, but you're so closed-minded (obviously, because you hate all muslims) that you don't even hear or see what else is going in this world. At the end of the day it's all politics and who suffers?! of course the ordinary people.

by: Rena from: USA
May 07, 2012 16:09
I believe I replied to William accidentally. I wanted to reply to the others. wanted to clarify it. Thanks.
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
May 07, 2012 23:07
That is fine, Rena - this is how the system is wired at present. I take your points above but please in future try to avoid any hint of criticism against people personally - trust in your argument, supply the facts, and these will speak for themselves. Hopefully that will be enough to light the first candle of illumination for some of our readers.

by: Anonymous from: California
May 10, 2012 22:44
I am an American woman, raised in a Christian faith. My sister and I were both abused by men with church positions. I know many women with the same story, some of whose abuse was terribly violent. Neither Christianity nor the laws of my country condoned the abuse. The abuse was possible because of a more widespread culture that devalues girls and women. Like our sisters in other countries, we were explicitly told to subject our wills to men.

Do not blame Islam for what was done to Sahar. The culture that permitted her abuse has many things in common with our own. This was even more true in the past: read Midsummer night’s Dream, or Titus Andronicus, in which fathers could dictate who their daughters would marry, or where women who had been raped were then murdered by their own fathers. These were terribly popular plays that reflect the cultural mores of a time not long enough ago – in England.

May there be peace between all peoples. May we find our common humanities to bridge the gaps between our cultures, and to subdue evil in all of its forms.

Peace and love to Sahar.

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