Afghan President pardons men convicted of bayonet gang rape

Author: By Kate Clark in Kabul

The woman, Sara, and her family found out about the pardon only when they saw
the rapists back in their village.

?Everyone was shocked,? said Sara?s husband, Dilawar, who like many Afghans
uses only one name. ?These were men who had been sentenced and found guilty
by the Supreme Court, walking around freely.?

Sara?s case highlights concerns about the close relationship between the
Afghan president and men accused of war crimes and human rights abuses.

The men were freed discreetly but the rape itself was public and brutal. It
took place in September 2005, in the run up to Afghanistan?s first
democratic parliamentary elections.

The most powerful local commander, Mawlawi Islam, was running for office
despite being accused of scores of murders committed while he had been a
mujahedeen commander in the 1980s and a Taliban governor in the 1990s, and
since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Sara said one of his sub-commanders
and body guards had been looking for young men to help in the election
campaign.

?It was evening, around the time for the last prayer, when armed men came and
took my son, Islamuddin, by force. I have eye-witness statements from nine
people that he was there. From that night until now, my son has never been
seen.?

Dilawar said his wife publicly harangued the commander twice about their
missing son. After the second time, he said, they came for her. ?The
commander and three of his fighters came and took my wife out of our home
and took her to their house about 200 metres away and, in front of these
witnesses, raped her.?

Dilawar has a sheaf of legal papers, including a doctors? report, which said
she had a 17mm wound in her private parts cut with a bayonet. Sara was left
to stumble home, bleeding and without her trousers.

When I met the couple in May 2006, they were in hiding and struggling to
pursue the four men through the courts, petitioning the parliament, the
president, human rights organisations and the United Nations. Sara and
Dilawar say that one of the men involved in the attack used money and
connections to repeatedly evade justice, particularly after his boss,
Mawlawi Islam, became an MP and, they allege, was fully able to protect him.

In January 2007, Mawlawi Islam was assassinated. However, the other three men
accused of the gang rape were put on trial, found guilty and sentenced to 11
years in prison. Abdul Basir died in jail. The other two rapists, Nur
Mohammad and Kheir Mohammad, were released last May. The commander was found
not guilty.

A copy of the pardon was numbered, dated in May and appeared to bear the
personal signature of Hamid Karzai. It recommended the men?s release
because, it said, ?they had been forced to confess to their crimes.?

When showed copies of the presidential pardon and court papers, President
Karzai?s spokesman, Hamayun Hamidzada, was visibly shocked and said that if
the documents proved genuine, Mr Karzai would be ?upset and appalled.?

He said it was impossible that President Karzai could knowingly have signed a
pardon for rapists, but refused to speculate on how the pardon could have
come about. He promised an investigation into all aspects of the case,
including the – as yet unsolved – mystery of Sara?s missing son.

He denied that there was one law for the rich and well-connected in
Afghanistan and another for people like Sara. ?There are difficulties –
we?re rebuilding institutions, including our justice institutions and there
are shortcomings, but the president and the government are committed to the
rule of law on all equally.?

A UN human rights official said that, although she could not remember a
similar case of the president giving a pardon in such a serious case,
corruption in the police and courts was endemic.

The MP, Mir Ahmad Joyenda, said cases similar to Sara?s were actually becoming
more common. The police and the courts, he said, were usually under the sway
of local commanders. ?The commanders, the war criminals, still have armed
groups,? he said. ?They?re in the government. Karzai, the Americans, the
British sit down with them. They have impunity. They?ve become very
courageous and can do whatever crimes they like.?

Sara and Dilawar are again in hiding, having felt too vulnerable to stay in
their village. Dilawar was prepared to discuss the case. In Afghanistan,
speaking about rape means risking further dishonour, but when asked whether
he minded Sara?s story being publicised, Dilawar said, ?We?ve already lost
our son, our honour, we?ve sold our land to pay for legal costs and we?ve
lost our home ? what else can we lose??

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