Afghanistan: Suspect in Mutilation Case Is Freed

Publication Date: 
July 11, 2011
The New York Times
Aisha, a young Afghan woman, whose nose and ears were cut off on orders of the Taliban for running away from a forced marriage.

KABUL, Afghanistan — The only suspect arrested in the case of a woman mutilated for leaving her husband has been released, local Afghan officials and the woman’s father said Monday, in a move that has angered human rights advocates and the woman’s family.

The suspect, Sulaiman, who like many Afghans has one name, was released with the knowledge of the governor in south-central Oruzgan Province, said the provincial attorney, Ghulam Farouq. Police officials had said that Mr. Sulaiman, the woman’s father-in-law, had confessed to taking part in the mutilation in 2009, though Mr. Farouq said he had recently insisted he was innocent.

On Monday, Mr. Farouq gave two different reasons for the release of Mr. Suleiman: that there was no one in to press the case against him — because the victim is now in the United States — and that he did not cut off the girl’s nose himself.

“If someone commits a crime, then nobody else should be punished or arrested,” Mr. Farouq said. “The crime was committed by his son, Quadratullah, and this innocent guy was imprisoned for 11 months.”

The governor of Oruzgan Province could not be reached for comment on Monday.

The woman, Bibi Aisha, came to national attention when magazine of her on its cover in August 2010, with the suggestion that this was what would happen to women if the West left Afghanistan. A child bride, Aisha (Bibi is an honorific; Aisha asked that her family name be withheld) had fled her arranged marriage to a fighter, but was captured and returned to the village where her husband, father-in-law and two brothers-in-law cut her nose and ears off after getting approval from the local Taliban mullah, said Aisha’s father, Mohammedzai, who was interviewed by telephone on Monday.

He added that Mr. Sulaiman was one of the people who held down his daughter while her husband cut her. The mutilation took place in Chora, a remote area of Oruzgan Province. Left for dead, Aisha fled to the safety of a women’s shelter in Kabul run by the advocacy group Women for Afghan Women, which publicized her plight a year later.

“The man they let out, he was Aisha’s father-in-law,” said Mr. Mohammedzai, his voice cracking as he spoke. “He was there at the time when they chopped off her nose and did the cruelty to her. He was one of the culprits and should have been punished, but the government released him.”

“We don’t know who released him,” he said. “We don’t know at all. It’s either government weakness or our weakness. We don’t have money to pay the government and we don’t have someone in the government to support us.”

The other perpetrators have not been apprehended because the area is controlled by the Taliban and the police cannot enter it, the police have said. Aisha’s husband, Quadratullah, who is a Taliban commander, fled to Pakistan or goes back and forth, according to women’s rights advocates who have tracked the case.

With the help of nonprofit women’s groups and the American Embassy, Aisha later went to the United States, where a foundation offered to finance reconstructive surgery. However, the operations have yet to take place because doctors felt she was still too distraught to handle the multiple surgeries that would be necessary as well as the long healing period, said Manizha Naderi, who runs Women for Afghan Women, which has also helped organize Aisha’s care in the United States. Now living in New York and learning English, Aisha has been emotionally distressed, although she is gradually stabilizing, Ms. Naderi said.

“When somebody goes through violence like this there’s trauma afterward,” she said. “For a long time she had nightmares that they were coming after her again and cutting her nose all over again.”

“It’s very bad he’s out,” Ms. Naderi said of Mr. Sulaiman’s release. “It sends out a message that it doesn’t matter how violent or how cruel the crime is; if you have connections or money you can get out on the street. It just shows that the justice system is very weak and corrupt.”

Aisha’s Afghan lawyer, Niamatullah Sarabi, said he had not been informed of Mr. Sulaiman’s release until afterward and that the case he had brought against Mr. Sulaiman had gone nowhere.

Human rights advocates said the release demonstrated the depth of the problems in the country’s justice system.

“Impunity has always been expected” in the justice system, said Nader Naderi, the deputy director of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. “Releasing him is a betrayal of the women who seek justice and of the police who tried to arrest them.”

The provincial attorney, Mr. Farouq, who said he was new to Oruzgan Province, said that since he had arrived a few months ago, Mr. Suleiman had insisted that he was not guilty. “It was a huge cruelty to keep him for 11 months in prison,” he said.

“I asked my colleagues if he was innocent and the colleagues said he was not present at the incident, he was outside the country at the time and was arrested when he returned in order to help the police and attorney to arrest his son.”

Separately, at least four men who worked to remove land mines from western Afghanistan were found beheaded on Sunday and Monday. They had been kidnapped with 24 of their colleagues, who were released Monday, according to statements from Afghan officials, the United Nations and the Mine Action Coordination Center of Afghanistan.

Abdul Waheed Wafa and Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting.