The Media Line, May 9, 2010

Afghanistan Grapples with “Honor Rape”

Mob of farmers gang rape sons of a regional governor and police chief

By Benjamin Joffe-Walt

The Muslim world is full of violent, graphic and alarming stories of 'honor killings', in which young woman are killed by male family members for dishonoring the family.

'Honor rape', in which the gang rape of a woman is used as a tool of social punishment, is spoken of less.

Almost unheard of is an 'honor killing' or 'honor rape' of a man.

But the northern Afghanistan province of Jowzjan is grappling with just that, after the sons of the region's governor and police chief were found having sex with two women almost a month ago in the Dasht-i Leile desert, north of the provincial capital Shiberghan.

According to local media reports, a man named Yama, the 30-year-old son of the Jowzjan governor, and his friend Hashmatullah, the 28-year-old son of the provincial police chief, was seen by local herdsmen having sex with 24-year old Shokreya and 22-year-old Jamila.

The herdsmen allegedly stole the men's guns and money and gang raped them in retribution for the 'dishonor' they had committed by having sex with the two young women.

"The farmers tore the clothes of the two young men with sickles and raped them," a local official told Pajhwok Afghan News. The herdsmen later described to local organizations that the attack was an 'honor rape.'

As the story goes, the two men were left naked in the desert, only to return home covered by the women's burqas and unable to sit down due to their injuries. The two women were reportedly unharmed, but told to leave the area within two weeks.

Muhammad Hashim Zare, the provincial governor, has refused to comment on the case, but his spokesperson Mahboobullah Zare has claimed that the governor is being targeted as part of a political smear campaign.

Brig. Gen. Khalilullah Aminzada, the police chief, has claimed that his son was not in the desert at the time of the alleged incident, and blamed the accusations on local farmers.

Regardless of the veracity of the allegations, the case has aroused local resentment towards public officials, with the governor and police chief accused of trying to cover up the incident and threats of protests from civil society organizations should the two men not stand trial.

"Public officials in Afghanistan simply do not have the kind of trust that you would expect of people in a normal political system," an Afghani anthropologist told The Media Line, on the condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the case. "People are appointed or in positions of power because they were associated with one warring faction or another."

"It might surprise some people in Western societies, but (the honor of women) is the most sensitive social issue in Afghan society," he added. "Of course it's a criminal thing but women represent the honor of any Afghani family, so protecting them from other men is the basic duty of all males. That's why we hear of a lot of honor killings and very unusual reactions when it comes to women's honor in Afghan society."

The police chief is rumored to have asked to be transferred out of the province, and his son has reportedly been fired from his job at a local bank branch because of the publicity surrounding the case. Bank officials have said the son is just on leave, but he has not been seen publicly since the incident.

Major General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a spokesperson for the Afghani Ministry of Defense, told the Media Line that he was unaware of any transfer request from the police chief, Brig. Gen. Aminzada, and officials at the Ministry of Interior could not be reached for comment.

Col. Abdul Malik Mamnoon, head of the crime branch of the provincial police, told Pajhwok Afghan News that they would not investigate the case until they receive an official complaint.


The incidence of rape has grown in Afghanistan, with Jawzjan province infamous for a case in which a mother gave an interview to a local TV channel claiming her 3-year-old girl had been raped.

"Afghanistan is a deeply traditional society, but the nature of those traditions differs by region," Nasim Fekrat, editor of the Afghan Lord blog, wrote in a post about the incident. "In the south, a region that is more conservative and insecure, women are not allowed to appear in public, making incidents of rape rare. By contrast, rape is more common in the north, where warlords and mujahideen commanders exert tremendous power and act with impunity.”

"The stable security situation has meant that there are more women in public spaces," he continued. "Rape in the north is most often committed by warlords and their relatives. Not only have government agencies and human rights organizations been unable to halt such practices, but they have turned a blind eye to them."

Fekrat said the national government's failure to curb rape in the northern provinces "may have spawned crimes such as this, where local villagers chose to take the law into their own hands."

"Many see the act as a response to perceived government corruption and incompetence," Fekrat wrote. "What is disturbing about the case is that the act has been praised by many members of the local community."

Some analysts warned against jumping to conclusions.

"It’s quite an unusual case," an analyst in Kabul told The Media Line on the condition of anonymity. "I'm not sure myself how to read it and it's tricky because the governor is actually a decent person and there is always the possibility that it has been fabricated or is part of some kind of smear campaign meant to humiliate the local authorities."

"There are cases all over the country of people who abuse their positions or their links to power to get away with what they want," she said. "So it's possible that these kids took advantage of their relationship with high profile figures."

"You often hear cases of local commanders doing things like this, as if they can do whatever they want," the analyst continued. "But to have farmers do something like this is strange, and it's certainly not the usual way of expressing anger towards officials. So rather than grievances towards the authorities, it might actually point to the fact that people think they can get away with things like this without consequences."

The Leile desert is best known as the site of an alleged massacre of hundreds of Taliban fighters by the Northern Alliance during an operation masterminded by US special forces at the onset of the U.S. invasion of the country.

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