Afghan rape victim freed
02:35 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Gulnaz was sentenced to 12 years in jail after she reported being raped by her cousin's husband

She's under pressure to marry her attacker to restore her honor

President Hamid Karzai intervened and ordered her release

Women in her situation are often killed for the shame they have brought on the community

Kabul, Afghanistan CNN  — 

An Afghan woman imprisoned for adultery after a relative raped her has been freed after President Hamid Karzai intervened on her behalf.

The woman, identified only as Gulnaz for her own protection, had been sentenced to prison for 12 years after she reported that her cousin’s husband had raped her two years ago. Wednesday, she was free at a women’s shelter in Kabul, with her daughter.

Her plight gained international attention when the European Union blocked the broadcast of a documentary about her ordeal, saying it would further jeopardize her safety.

Afghan Justice Minister Habibullah Ghaleb and a judiciary committee both proposed a pardon. Karzai then ordered authorities to decree Gulnaz’s release.

After the attack two years ago, Gulnaz hid what happened as long as she could. She was afraid of reprisals. But soon she began vomiting in the mornings and showing signs of pregnancy. It was her attacker’s child.

In Afghanistan, this brought her not sympathy but prosecution. She was found guilty by the courts of sex outside of marriage – adultery – and sentenced to 12 years in jail. She was only 19.

As shocking as it may seem, Gulnaz’s case is far from isolated.

Last month, CNN asked a spokesman for the prosecutor to comment on the case. The reply was that there were hundreds of such cases, and the office would need time to look into it.

Reported cases of violence against women, from domestic abuse to rape to honor killings, are on the rise, according to the Afghan Women’s Network.

One problem is that Afghan law fails to clearly distinguish between rape and adultery, which is a crime under Shariah, or Islamic law. The courts say Gulnaz was to blame for having sex with a married man.

Interview with Gulnaz

In conservative Afghan society, Gulnaz faces considerable pressure to marry her attacker, soothing the rift between the two families, restoring her honor and legitimizing her daughter.

She was willing to do so in order to end her incarceration, she told CNN last month from Kabul’s Badam Bagh jail, though she does not want that option. She would like to marry an educated man, according to her attorney, Kimberly Motley, in Kabul.

“A woman having to marry her rapist in any nation means we are living in a world where humanity has been abandoned,” said Azita Ghanizada, an ambassador with Women For Women International, an organization that since 2002 has been supporting socially excluded Afghan women.

Gulnaz’s choices now are stark. Women in her situation are often killed for the shame their ordeal has brought the community.

In the women’s prison in Kabul, most of the inmates were convicted of rape or adultery, Ghanizada said.

A United Nations human rights document on Afghan women said they “are perceived as receptacles of family honor, their opposition to family dictates about marriage often puts them at risk of brutal physical punishment. So-called ‘honor’ killings recognize a man’s right to kill a woman with impunity because of the damage that her immoral actions have caused to family honor.”

Gulnaz could still be at risk from her attacker’s family.

“Creating attention globally created enough pressure to allow Gulnaz to be pardoned,” said Ghanizada. “But she will continue to raise the child (she) bore out of this rape and hide in a shelter, hoping that the attention won’t create any more harm for her.”

Behind bars, Gulnaz’s convicted rapist denied raping her. Her life would probably end if she were freed, he said before her release. But it would be her family, not his, that would kill her out of the shame she has wrought.

How Gulnaz will be able to re-assimilate into the life she once had remains a difficult question. She is free from jail but not from her ordeal.

CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh reported from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Moni Basu from Atlanta. CNN’s Masoud Popalzai contributed to this report.