[25 October 2014] -
A mullah who raped a 10-year-old girl in his mosque was sentenced to 20 years in prison after a dramatic trial here in Kabul on Saturday during which his accuser, weeping and shaking, summoned the courage to confront him.
Women’s activists attending the packed proceedings hailed the sentence as a victory because the mullah was successfully prosecuted under a 2009 law meant to fight violence against women in a country where rape had long been treated as adultery, implicitly placing partial blame on the victim. The judge in this case dismissed the mullah’s Shariah law defense.
In addition, intervention by Women for Afghan Women, a group that had earlier sheltered the girl, persuaded the victim’s family members to support her. The group paid her family’s travel expenses from their home in the remote province of Kunduz, where the crime occurred, so they could attend the trial.
After the rape occurred last May, family members of the girl had been overheard plotting to kill her out of shame at what had happened, according to the police and women’s activists in Kunduz. Such “honor killings” of rape victims are common in Afghanistan. Until the Elimination of Violence Against Women law was passed in 2009, rape was not even a crime.
The girl and her father and uncle expressed dissatisfaction with the sentence, saying the culprit, Mullah Mohammad Amin, should have been given the death penalty. A women’s activist, Jamila Azizi of the Development and Support of Afghan Women and Children Organization, also said the prison sentence was disappointing, noting that five men were hanged recently in the notorious Paghman gang rapes, where the victims were wives returning from a wedding. “How and why raping this little girl earns him only prison and they had the death penalty, I don’t understand,” she said. “He ruined her for life.”
Shackled with chains around his waist, attached to handcuffs, Mullah Amin was obliged to kneel on the floor of the crowded judge’s chambers, which were used as the courtroom, while everyone else sat on chairs. The girl, whose name is being withheld for her safety outside her village, sat about six feet away and covered her face entirely with her veil so she would not have to see Mullah Amin, who did not once look at her.
She wept uncontrollably as the prosecutor, Mujahid Raidan, read the mullah’s earlier, detailed confession and the investigative report detailing her horrific injuries. But when the mullah spoke in his own defense and claimed she had seduced him, the girl stopped sobbing and pulled aside her veil enough to speak directly to him. “Hey liar, hey liar,” she said. “God hate you, you are dirt, you are dirt, you are a vampire.”
Prominent mullahs and some officials in Kunduz had earlier claimed the girl was actually as old as 17, above the age of consent; since Afghans have no birth certificates and generally do not celebrate birthdays, her exact age is hard to prove. But her mother says she is 10, and a forensic medical examiner estimated her age at 10 to 11 years.
Judge Mohammad Suliman Rasuli said the mullah’s admission that he had sex with the girl could not be considered adultery because of her young age, and was tantamount to an admission of rape.
Mullah Amin’s two defense lawyers pleaded on Islamic grounds that he should be given the Shariah law punishment for a single person accused of adultery, 100 lashes, and then released. Judge Rasuli responded that such logic would require him to order the girl to be given 100 lashes as well. “She cannot commit adultery; she is a child,” he said. “This is rape.”
The prosecutor did not call the girl as a witness, but she insisted on being heard.
“You shamed me, liar, you destroyed my life, you brought shame to my father,” she called out. Addressing the judge, she said, “Please, director, hang him.”
After the girl was raped and activists heard her family plotting to kill her, she was put in a shelter run by Women for Afghan Women, or W.A.W., in Kunduz, and later sent by the group to Kabul for medical treatment. The rape had been so violent that it caused a break in the wall between the vagina and rectum, a fistula, which had to be repaired surgically.
Over the objections of W.A.W., she was returned to her family members after they posted bond and made promises through elders not to harm her. W.A.W.'s social workers have remained in close contact with the family. Hassina Sarwari, who runs the Kunduz shelter, has received death threats related to the case, from both the Taliban and pro-government militias.
“She was raped and is a child, and if we killed her, how would we answer to God on the day of judgment?” said her uncle, Mohammad Rasoul, outside the court. Her father, Najimudin, who like many Afghans uses only one name, insisted the family had never planned to kill the girl.
While some women’s activists were disappointed that the mullah was not sentenced to death, the violence against women law — written in collaboration with the international community — does not provide for the death penalty for any offense against women.
The accused Paghman rapists were sentenced to death for armed robbery, which is a capital offense in Afghan law, not for the offense of rape.
“I am happy with the sentence,” said Manizha Naderi, W.A.W.'s executive director. “As long as W.A.W. is alive and working, I will make sure that he spends the whole 20 years in prison. He won’t get out early if I can help it.”
Ms. Naderi said her organization was trying to persuade the girl’s family to let her stay at one of its refuges for children so she can attend school in Kabul. Her family members said they had withdrawn her from school in Kunduz out of shame at what happened.
The victim’s father neither looked at nor spoke to his daughter during the proceedings, and when they were over, he turned his back on her and walked out. She followed him at a respectful distance, walking past the mullah chained up in the hallway, who kept his eyes on the floor.