AN AFGHAN rape victim who was pardoned by president Hamid Karzai and then betrothed to her attacker has demanded a $22,000 (£14,000) dowry, making the prospects of a union significantly less likely.
The figure is almost four times the average bride price in Afghanistan – Gulnaz’s supporters said her attacker’s family are unlikely to have that sort of money.
Gulnaz was sentenced to 12 years in prison for adultery after she reported the assault to police. She gave birth to a daughter from the attack in jail.
She had originally tried to tell her story in a documentary about women’s rights, funded by the European Union, but the EU banned the film, In-Justice, citing concerns about its relations with the Afghan government, and the safety of the women it portrayed, if it were released.
However, Mr Karzai intervened last week and overturned Gulnaz’s conviction, after her ordeal made headlines across the world. The US State department said her situation was one “no woman should have to face”.
In a letter witnessed by her lawyer, Kim Motley, Gulnaz demanded the money by next Saturday. “I think it’s is a ruse to avoid the marriage,” Ms Motley said yesterday.
Afghanistan’s justice minister and attorney general visited Gulnaz in prison on Thursday, immediately after Mr Karzai’s review, to tell her about the pardon and discuss her options for the future.
They told Mr Karzai’s office that Gulnaz had agreed to marry her attacker, Assadullah Sher Mohammad. He is her cousin’s husband.
Although Gulnaz had previously contemplated marrying Mr Mohammad, revealed in a series of candid interviews filmed for In-Justice, it was as a way to “legitimise” her daughter in the eyes of Afghanistan’s deeply conservative society, and to try and broker peace between the two families.
In other interviews she cursed Mr Mohammad to rot in prison, and vowed never to forgive him for destroying her future.
Ms Motley added: “When the government officials went in to talk to her it sounded like they were telling her she had to marry this guy, rather than asking her if she wanted to.”
Noorjahan Akbar, an Afghan women’s activist and co-founder of campaign group Young Women for Change, warned that the marriage would be “mysogynistic and backwards” if it was allowed to go ahead.
She said: “If Gulnaz is married to her rapist [it would] perpetuate the unjust belief that rape is not about the violation of a woman’s rights and dignity, but a matter of family honour and to preserve the family honour.
“If she consents to it because she is provided with no other alternative, it will be a message to other violators of women’s rights and rapists that the president will make sure you will marry the woman after she is impregnated and imprisoned.”
Although UN research has found Afghan bride prices topping $28,000, the average is between $2,000-$6,000.
Mr Mohammad, whose sentence was cut from 12 to seven years, insists he is innocent, but said he would marry Gulnaz, if it meant getting out of prison early. However, his brother has vowed never to forgive her, for what he claims are false accusations.
In a pointed statement from the British Embassy, officials said they understood Gulnaz’s release was “unconditional”.
The EU ambassador, Vygaudas Usackas, who was ultimately responsible for censoring the film, said he was “delighted with the news that Gulnaz is to be freed from prison”.
He also promised that the EU would “ensure that the rights of Afghan women, and the need to raise awareness of their plight, is raised at the International Conference on Afghanistan in Bonn,” today.
Officials said Gulnaz would be released today, and taken to a “safe place”.