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Honor-Killing Case Raises Fears For Women's Rights In Afghanistan

Rights activists fear that many of the civil liberties women have gained in Afghanistan over the past decade or so could soon be eroded. (file photo)
Rights activists fear that many of the civil liberties women have gained in Afghanistan over the past decade or so could soon be eroded. (file photo)
Authorities in the northwestern Afghan province of Badghis have arrested a local cleric accused of killing a woman for allegedly having an affair with her male cousin.

Badghis police chief, Sharafuddin Sharaf, told Radio Free Afghanistan over the phone that local security forces arrested Mullah Abdul Ghafoor on July 30 and handed him over to judicial officials in the province. The cleric had been in hiding since April.

Sharaf added that Ghafoor had issued an edict or fatwa for the women's execution on the grounds that she had apparently had an "illicit affair" with a man. The killing was carried out on April 22 when the 20-year-old woman, known as Halima, was shot dead by her father in front of more than 200 inhabitants of the village of Kookchaeel in the Aabkamari district.

"The fatwa was an illegal act," said Sharaf. "Even if that woman was guilty, she should have been tried based on Afghan Islamic law and its justice system. It was an unjust act because it was an extra-judicial trial conducted without the presence of any eye-witnesses."

Badghis Governor Ahmadullah Alizai also condemned the fatwa.

"This is cruelty and we are trying to arrest those who set-up their own courts and kill women," he said. "We have to implement stringent laws on them."

Sharafuddin Sharaf told Radio Free Asia that Halima, the mother of two children, was accused of running away with her male cousin while her husband was in Iran and returned to her family after 10 days.

Sharaf added that Halima's father and her cousin are now on the run and their whereabouts remain unknown.

In a report published on April 30, Amnesty International said: "The public killing of a woman in Afghanistan is further proof that the authorities are still failing to tackle the shocking levels of gender-based violence in the country."

According to the report, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission registered more than 4,000 cases of violence against women from 21 March to 21 October 2012, which shows a 28 percent rise in the level of women's rights abuses in the country compared with the same period in 2011.

By way of a presidential decree in 2009, Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a law on the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW), which criminalizes rape, child marriage, forced marriage, and other activities that threaten females.

However, the legislation was opposed by a number of hard-line Afghan lawmakers in May and has not yet been approved.

Conservative members of the Afghan parliament argued that some articles of the EVAW, including one stating that the victims of such violence should be given shelter at a safe house, are against Shari'a Law.

Advocates of the EVAW say that it offers "sanctuary for Afghan women" and that it should be approved to safeguard women's rights in the country.

It was common practice during the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for women to be stoned to death on charges of committing adultery or having seemingly illicit affairs with men.

Now, many women in the country are concerned that any Taliban resurgence could trample on the hard-won rights they have gained under the U.S.-backed Afghan administration that has governed the country for nearly 12 years.

-- Mustafa Sarwar