EU censors own film on Afghan women prisoners

By Orla Guerin
BBC News, Kabul

media captionThe European Union has blocked the release of a documentary on Afghan women in jail for what are called "moral crimes"

The European Union has blocked the release of a documentary on Afghan women who are in jail for so-called "moral crimes".

The EU says it decided to withdraw the film - which it commissioned and paid for - because of "very real concerns for the safety of the women portrayed".

However, human rights workers say the injustice in the Afghan judicial system should be exposed.

Half of Afghanistan's women prisoners are inmates for "zina" or moral crimes.

A statement from the EU's Kabul delegation said the welfare of the women was the paramount consideration in its decision.

No official from the delegation was prepared to be interviewed about the film.

No new dawn

Some of the women convicted of "zina" are guilty of nothing more than running away from forced marriages or violent husbands.

Human rights activists say hundreds of those behind bars are victims of domestic violence.

Amnesty International says it is important to "lift the lid on one of Afghanistan's most shameful judicial practices".

The documentary told the story of a 19-year-old prisoner called Gulnaz.

After she was raped, she was charged with adultery. Her baby girl, born following the rape, is serving her sentence with her.

"At first my sentence was two years," Gulnaz said, as her baby coughed in her arms. "When I appealed it became 12 years. I didn't do anything. Why should I be sentenced for so long?"

Stories like hers are tragically typical, according to Heather Barr, of Human Rights Watch, who is carrying out research among Afghan female prisoners.

"It would be reassuring to think that the stories told in this film represent aberrations or extreme case," she said. "Unfortunately that couldn't be further from the truth."

She has interviewed many women behind bars, who were victims twice over - abused by their husbands, or relatives, and then by those who were supposed to protect them.

"You hear the story again and again of women going to the police and asking for help and ending up in prison instead," Ms Barr said.

A decade after the Taliban were overthrown, Afghan women are still waiting for justice, campaigners say.

Ms Barr said: "It's very important that people understand that there are these horrific stories that are happening now - 10 years after the fall of the Taliban government, 10 years after what was supposed to be a new dawn for Afghan women."

For many that new dawn has not come, but for Gulnaz there is now the hope of freedom.

Her name is on a list of women to be pardoned, according to a prison official, but as she has no lawyer, the paperwork has yet to be processed.

Gulnaz's pardon may be in the works because she has agreed - after 18 months of resisting - to marry her rapist.

"I need my daughter to have a father," she said.

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