Afghanistan: Hundreds Of Women, Girls Jailed For ‘Moral Crimes’


Kabul – The Afghan government should release the approximately 400 women and girls imprisoned in Afghanistan for “moral crimes,” Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The United States and other donor countries should press the Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai to end the wrongful imprisonment of women and girls who are crime victims rather than criminals.

The 120-page report, “‘I Had to Run Away’: Women and Girls Imprisoned for ‘Moral Crimes’ in Afghanistan,” is based on 58 interviews conducted in three prisons and three juvenile detention facilities with women and girls accused of “moral crimes.” Almost all girls in juvenile detention in Afghanistan had been arrested for “moral crimes,” while about half of women in Afghan prisons were arrested on these charges. These “crimes” usually involve flight from unlawful forced marriage or domestic violence. Some women and girls have been convicted of zina, sex outside of marriage, after being raped or forced into prostitution.

“It is shocking that 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “No one should be locked up for fleeing a dangerous situation even if it’s at home. President Karzai and Afghanistan’s allies should act decisively to end this abusive and discriminatory practice.”

The fall of the Taliban government in 2001 promised a new era ofwomen’s rights. Significant improvements have occurred in education, maternal mortality, employment, and the role of women in public life and governance. Yet the imprisonment of women and girls for “moral crimes” is just one sign of the difficult present and worrying future faced by Afghan women and girls as the international community moves to decrease substantially its commitments in Afghanistan.

Human Rights Watch interviewed many girls who had been arrested after they fled a forced marriage and women who had fled abusive husbands and relatives. Some women interviewed by Human Rights Watch had gone to the police in dire need of help, only to be arrested instead.

“Running away,” or fleeing home without permission, is not a crime under the Afghan criminal code, but the Afghan Supreme Court has instructed its judges to treat women and girls who flee as criminals. Zina is a crime under Afghan law, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Women and girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch described abuses including forced and underage marriage, beatings, stabbings, burnings, rapes, forced prostitution, kidnapping, and murder threats. Virtually none of the cases had led even to an investigation of the abuse, let alone prosecution or punishment.

One woman, Parwana S. (not her real name), 19, told Human Rights Watch how she was convicted of “running away” after fleeing a husband and mother-in-law who beat her: “I will try to become independent and divorce him. I hate the word ‘husband.’ My liver is totally black from my husband… If I knew about prison and everything [that would happen to me] I would have just jumped into the river and committed suicide.”

Human Rights Watch said that women and girls accused of “moral crimes” face a justice system stacked against them at every stage. Police arrest them solely on a complaint of a husband or relative. Prosecutors ignore evidence that supports women’s assertions of innocence. Judges often convict solely on the basis of “confessions” given in the absence of lawyers and “signed” without having been read to women who cannot read or write. After conviction, women routinely face long prison sentences, in some cases more than 10 years.

Afghanistan’s 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women makes violence against women a criminal offense. But the same police, prosecutors, and judges who work zealously to lock up women accused of “moral crimes” often ignore evidence of abuse against the accused women, Human Rights Watch said.

“Courts send women to prison for dubious ‘crimes’ while the real criminals – their abusers –walk free,” Roth said. “Even the most horrific abuses suffered by women seem to elicit nothing more than a shrug from prosecutors, despite laws criminalizing violence against women.”

Abusive prosecution of “moral crimes” is important to far more than the approximately 400 women and girls in prison or pretrial detention, Human Rights Watch said. Every time a woman or girl flees a forced marriage or domestic violence only to end up behind bars, it sends a clear message to others enduring abuse that seeking help from the government is likely to result in punishment, not rescue.

The plight of women facing domestic violence is made still worse by archaic divorce laws that permit a man simply to declare himself divorced, while making it extremely difficult for a woman to obtain a divorce, Human Rights Watch said. The Afghan government made a commitment to reform these laws in 2007 under its National Action Plan for Women in Afghanistan, and a committee of experts drafted a new Family Law that would improve the rights of women. This new law, however, has been on hold with the government since 2010, with no sign of movement toward passage.

“It is long past time for Afghanistan to act on its promises to overhaul laws that make Afghan women second-class citizens,” Roth said. “Laws that force women to endure abuse by denying them the right to divorce are not only outdated but cruel.”

By maintaining discriminatory laws on the books, and by failing to address due process and fair trial violations in “moral crimes” cases, Afghanistan is in violation of its obligations under international human rights law. United Nations expert bodies and special rapporteurs have called for the repeal of Afghanistan’s “moral crimes” laws. The UN special rapporteur on violence against women has called on Afghanistan to “abolish laws, including those related to zina, that discriminate against women and girls and lead to their imprisonment and cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment.” The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has urged Afghanistan to “[r]emove so-called moral offences as a crime and release children detained on this basis.”

“The Afghan government and its international partners should act urgently to protect women’s rights and to ensure there is no backsliding,” Roth said. “President Karzai, the United States, and others should finally make good on the bold promises they made to Afghan women a decade ago by ending imprisonment for ‘moral crimes,’ and actually implementing their stated commitment to support women’s rights.”

Moral Policing on Valentine’s Day


14th Feb, 2012 -A woman police constable punishes a young couple as they were celebrating Valentines Day in Dhanbad. PTI

Activists of ABVP burn the greeting cards during a protest against Valentine’s Day celebrations in Hyderabad.
– AP PHOTO/ MAHESH KUMAR A.

The Dirty Picture or how not to be a Porngate hypocrite


First Post, Feb 9, 2012

by M. Svairini

Confession: I have sex. I watch porn on the Internet and on film. I write erotic stories, I’ve stripped for audiences, and, so far, I’ve acted in one film that could be considered “blue.” I talk about the sex I have and the sex I want to have and the sex I think is hot.

This makes me a lawbreaker in some places, but not a hypocrite. And if you don’t want to be a sexual hypocrite either (listen up, Karnataka state legislators), if you don’t want to keep on colluding with a nation of hypocrites, read on.

Warning: It will be an uphill battle.

All over India, at this very moment, thousands of boys and men and even some women are huddled over mobile phones and laptops, or sitting in internet cafes or at their office computers, watching porn.

In the urban epicenters, crores of rupees are trading hands in order to shoot, edit, market, and distribute “blue” films. Businessmen watch pay-per-view porn delivered by satellite from their five-star hotel beds. In each of India’s 5,500 cities and towns, men know which vendors keep an under-the-counter stash of illicit DVDs.

And in the Karnataka legislature, three men watching porn on a mobile phone were forced to resign. There are reports that 40 more lawmakers may have passed around the dirty picture.

In their defense, the men have claimed they weren’t watching porn; they were watching a rape. That, apparently, is supposed to be better.

Today in India, hypocrisy is the only moral constant. The shamed politicians belong to a right wing that has vociferously asserted anti-sex “family values” in India in recent years. But the opposition, which in its outrage about “defiling the Temple of Democracy” has called for criminal charges to be filed against the phone-wankers, suffers no shortage of its own sex scandals. Everyone is appalled and shocked by sex and porn; no one has ever, you know, apparently enjoyed it.

Blame, if you want, Queen Victoria. It was her men who wrote our first obscenity laws. Back on their cold little island, the British now embrace most of what they once criminalised in the colonies. Pornographers, like everyone else in the UK, possess a right to free speech that covers everything except the most “extreme” sex acts.

But here in the former Jewel in the Crown, Victorian hypocrisy lives on. Brown sahibs carry on their former masters’ work, criminalising sexuality and shaming its many expressions. They sit in government offices or organise street protests or come on television to deliver longwinded speeches about morals.

And these moral guardians, too, watch porn.

Somehow, Indians have forsworn their older heritage of sexual choice. Somehow, we have decided that freedom of speech does not extend to the freedom to go beyond titillation. Authors routinely sign contracts guaranteeing that they have not written anything obscene or profane. People who want to make work about sexuality do so underground, in secret, by paying bribes, or by going overseas.

At the same time, sex and the consumption of sexual content is widespread. As Delhi-born sexpot Anjali — well known to fans of Bangkok porn — says, “I think I am and was way better than those hypocritical girls who look homely and docile but live secret lives of sin.”

Countries where sexual hypocrisy runs deep, love sex scandals. In India our sexual hypocrisy runs especially deep. So India’s response is even more heated. The reported mobs of impromptu protesters in Karnataka are not composed, surely, of cold-blooded young men who have never looked at or been titillated by pornography. At least some of the journalists frothing over the story are surely aficionados themselves. They aren’t morally outraged; they are excited. A scandal gives everyone an excuse to talk and think and write about sex, while keeping absolutely quiet about their own desires.

In the pre-intermission climax of the Bollywood film “The Dirty Picture,” based loosely on the life of the late actress Silk Smitha, Silk delivers a powerful speech to a film industry audience.

“You call me ghatia, sexy, dirty. … But it’s you who make sex films, sell them, watch them, distribute them so others can watch, even give awards for them.” (Here she brandishes her golden statuette award before the audience.) “Don’t worry. I’m going now. But I won’t leave you alone. I will go on making your dirty pictures, and I will go on showing people your dirty secret.”

Personally, I’m not interested in being or having a dirty secret. I like having a dirty, filthy, fulfilling real life.

I know there is confusion out there. You see it in #porngate and every other time a sex scandal rises to the surface: mass confusion and debate about what, exactly, the problem is. Is it that they were doing the naughty thing, or that they were caught? Or was it where they were doing it and on whose time? Was it sex that someone enjoyed, or was it rape? Which is worse? Who was turned on, and when did they know it?

In all this confusion, no one seems to understand the right way to handle sexuality and its stories. The problem is, if you talk one way and act the other, you will always be confused.

When it comes to sexuality, there is only one rule to living to a non-hypocritical life. Repeat after me: It is ok to have and enjoy sex. Really.

By sex, I don’t mean “only within marriage,” “only in the missionary position,” “only if you are a heterosexual man,” etcetera. I mean that all expressions of sexuality between consenting adults are 100% acceptable and healthy.

The key word above is “consenting.” By consent, I don’t mean “she dressed like she wanted it,” or “he didn’t actually say no before I put it in him,” or “she needed medicine for her kid so she said yes to the money.” I mean that you are 100% sure that the other person is 100% passionately excited about being there, doing that, with you.

And that includes pornography. Generally speaking, you can tell when you’re watching whether the people want to be there or not. If you have any doubt, you can look for films and clips with the names of porn stars who have clearly taken charge of their own business. You can tell because they give interviews, and they talk about their work without a sense of shame.

Besides Anjali, women like Priya Rai, Poonam Pandey, and Sunny Leone are making a name — and loads of cash — for themselves. And for fans of vintage shake-and-wiggle, there’s always Silk Smitha. As her Vidya Balan filmi avatar says:

“You feel you can’t watch my films with your family. But watching my films in secret, you’re inspired to make bigger families!”

Those are my kind of family values.

M Svairini writes naughty stories online and can be followed slavishly at http://www.twitter.com/msvairini .

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