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Lal Bibi's journey for justice

Posted by Wazhma Frogh Civil Society and Human Rights Activist

25th Nov 2012

Lal Bibi's supporters in court for the trial of her assailants. Amongst others, the picture shows Wazhma Frogh and Mary Akarami, pioneer of safe houses in Afghanistan.
Wazhma Frogh is a leading women's rights activist from Afghanistan. Here, she recounts the story of Lal Bibi and explains how tribal and civil society support helped this young woman to achieve justice.

Who is Lal Bibi?, I will summarise that Lal Bibi, 21, was abducted, raped and tortured for five consecutive days by the armed men who are in charge of the Afghan Local Police (an auxiliary militia called Arbakis) in Kunduz during May 2012. She was punished for the animosity that her cousin had with the armed men of the Afghan Local Police. In Afghanistan, a family's 'honour' is tied with a woman of the family, who can be punished to account for someone else's deeds, but that is another (long) story.

There is nothing new about Lal Bibi's ordeal either. We have rape cases taking place in this part of the world almost every day but what was so strange about Lal Bibi's case was that her whole tribe stood up for her. For whatever reason they chose to support her (and many say its political) seeing 50 bearded, turbaned men, who are the village council's head, provincial council members, tribal leaders, the mosque mullahs and the community members all coming to Kabul accompanying Lal Bibi and her parents was an impressive sight. It's certainly something I had never seen, during the past 15 years of my activism for women's rights in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

What was so strange about Lal Bibi's case was that her whole tribe stood up for her.

The tribe came to us, the women's organisations and activists, seeking support. We struggled hard for them and pushed the government to arrest the perpetrators and transferred the case to Kabul's Attorney General's Office so that we could follow the legal proceedings and get justice for Lal Bibi and her tribe.

Such tribal support is rare in this country. At least rare for a woman's case. Seeing all these men supporting Lal Bibi and Lal Bibi's grandfather - who kept telling the story with flowing tears on his face - brought the case to the attention of journalists.

I met Lal Bibi is a women's shelter, she was traumatised, confused and silent. She didn't respond to anyone and if you asked her to sit under the blue burqa for hours in the heat, she would not even move. Her parents and uncles came to us to follow the case in Kabul. I asked Lal Bibi how she felt and how would she react at the court hearing, but she just kept staring at us and could not respond. She was angry, silent and broken.

But Lal Bibi is lucky. I know she is lucky to have been able to reach to some support, while I know hundreds and thousands of women in Afghanistan are abused, raped, tortured but all in silence and they turn into ashes and no one even notices them. She is lucky to have her tribe standing beside her for justice. While women are stoned to death in this country with no one from their family even standing up for them, as in the Parwan stoning case in early July 2012.

She is also lucky, as the men who attacked her have been finally brought to justice. On 7 November, the four policemen responsible for Lal Bibi's horrific ordeal were each sentenced to 16 years in prison. Ms Bibi's ordeal has also prompted President Karzai to order an investigation. Let's hope that the case can set a precedent for dealing with violence against women in Afghanistan.

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Blog post written by Wazhma Frogh

Civil Society and Human Rights Activist

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