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Jailed Afghan rape victim has sentence reduced, remains in jail

By Nick Paton Walsh, CNN
updated 1:24 AM EST, Thu November 24, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prosecutors say she did not report the attack fast enough
  • Both woman and her attacker were convicted of adultery
  • A presidential pardon is possible, an official says
  • The woman's child remains in prison with her

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghan prosecutors announced Wednesday that a young rape victim, jailed for adultery after reporting the crime and pushed into marrying her attacker, would have her sentence reduced from twelve to three years. The prosecutor said she would, for now, remain in jail -- with her child -- for not reporting her attack fast enough.

In a remarkable case that is all too common in Afghanistan but has drawn international attention, 21-year-old Gulnaz was attacked by a relative two years ago, but sentenced to 12 years in jail for adultery.

She has since given birth to a girl from the attack. Because of the dishonor of sex outside of wedlock, she had been given the choice of marrying her attacker to get out of jail and legitimize her infant daughter in the eyes of Afghanistan's conservative society.

The child is imprisoned with her at Badambagh Prison on the outskirts of Kabul.

Jawad: Afghan system failed rape victim
Woman being forced to marry her rapist

Gulnaz says she at first tried to hide the attack against her because she could be killed for bringing shame on her community. Only her pregnancy exposed the attack and began criminal investigations that led to her conviction for adultery.

On Wednesday a spokesman for the Afghan attorney general said her sentence had been reduced by another court hearing to three years and that the main remaining charge against her was not reporting her attack early enough. A lawyer for Gulnaz, Kim Motley, said her client was only on Tuesday made aware of the reduced sentence and there had been no official notification of it.

The attorney general spokesman, Rahmatullah Nazari, said their investigation had concluded there was no rape, but instead sex outside of wedlock, resulting in both the male attacker and Gulnaz being convicted of adultery.

"Gulnaz claims that she has been raped. But because she reported the crime four months later, we couldn't find any evidence [of an attack]," Nazari said. "She was convicted for not reporting a crime on time."

Gulnaz's attacker denied having sex with her. He told CNN he was serving jail time because he had been accused of rape. His conviction records show he is in jail for "zina", a Dari word that directly translates as "adultery." Human rights workers note that rape cases are often handled as adultery in Afghanistan's court system.

The spokesman for the prosecutor added, however, that Gulnaz might soon receive a presidential pardon.

"There is a strong possibility that she would be pardoned under a presidential decree in the upcoming important dates like Prophet's birthday or Afghan new year," said Nazari.

Nazari said the Afghan prosecutor's investigation had concluded that Gulnaz and her attacker had had consensual sex several times. Months later, when it emerged she was pregnant he said, their families met to try and settle the issue through a financial payment. When those discussions broke down, Nazari said, the accusation of rape was made.

The courts ultimately found both parties guilty of adultery, Gulnaz receiving two years, and her attacker seven. A later court ruling then increased her sentence to twelve years. A third court hearing, which happened in the past month but about which Gulnaz heard little until Tuesday, decided that she should serve a total of three years -- not for adultery but instead for failing to report a crime quickly enough.

Throughout her interview with CNN, Gulnaz was emotional but consistent and clear in telling her story of a single incident of rape by one attacker, the husband of her cousin, when her mother left her alone to make a hospital visit.

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