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.
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."
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.
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