KABUL // An Afghan cleric has been jailed for 20 years for raping a 10-year old girl, after the child confronted her attacker in court despite fierce family opposition.
Activists said the girl appeared in court after being taken to a women’s shelter for safety. Her family had threatened to kill her for bringing “dishonour” on them.
The sentence, passed by a court in Kabul on Saturday, came just weeks after five men were hanged for the gang-rape of four women.
The assault took place in May in the girl’s home village near the provincial capital of Kunduz.
Hasina Sarwari, the head of the Women for Afghan Women (WAW) non-government organisation in Kunduz, said the victim was raped by Mohammad Aminullah Barez, a local mullah who taught girls religious studies at a mosque school.
She first tried to hide what had happened to her but was later admitted to hospital for bleeding, where doctors discovered she had been raped.
Kunduz police said they were shocked to hear the story but acted immediately to apprehend the mullah.
“We caught mullah Mohammad Amin while he was trying to flee,” said police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini.
“We are happy for the court’s decision but we wanted him to be executed,” Ms Sarwari said. Her organisation supported the girl in her case and gave her shelter in Kabul.
Ms Sarwari said that if the trial had not been transferred to Kabul the result would probably have been very different.
“After the rape happened the family of the girl wanted to kill her out of shame, even the nurses were not ready to treat her when she was bleeding in the hospital,” she said.
“They would shout ‘May you die, you brought disgrace to our family!’ and ‘We will kill you and dump your body in the river’.
“We got scared too, but we somehow managed to sneak her out of the hospital and take her to a WAW shelter,” she said.
The girl was later brought to Kabul where she was treated for injuries and kept in a women’s shelter before she appeared in court.
Benafsha Efaf Amiri, another member of the WAW, said that although the cleric had admitted having sex with the girl, he tried to persuade the court it was consensual and he should therefore only receive 100 lashes as punishment.
Judge Sulaiman Rasouli rejected that argument because it would entail lashing the girl too and treating her as an adulterer rather than a rape victim.
Ms Amiri hailed the verdict as a victory for Afghan women, who still face violence despite reforms since the fall of the hardline Islamist Taliban in 2001.
“Our assessment from yesterday’s court session has made us optimistic for ensuring justice and for ensuring the rights of women of Afghanistan,” she said.
It was also termed a “just verdict” by the women’s affairs ministry.
The cleric’s lawyers are expected to appeal to try to reduce the sentence.
* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press