Justice acquitted as court jails four Afghan policemen for teenager's rape
Trial hailed as evidence that controversial force can be held accountable for its crimes
Before a packed courtroom in the capital, a judicial panel found four members of the Afghan Local Police guilty of involvement in the rape of a shepherd's daughter in a case that tested the judicial system's ability to hold the controversial force accountable.
The four police officers, who are from Kunduz province in the north of Afghanistan, were sentenced to 16 years in prison for the sexual assault in May of Lal Bibi, a woman of about 18.
The men and their defence lawyer said they would appeal against the verdict.
Among those held to account was the unit's commander, Muhammad Ishaq Nezaami. He had ties to many local power brokers and initially appeared untouchable, although local people charged that he had been a chief backer of the assault, allowing his truck to be used and supporting his men who carried out the rape. He was detained only after President Hamid Karzai issued clear instructions that all the assailants were to be brought to justice.
During the trial, Nezaami denied that Bibi had been raped, saying there had been a marriage contract with one of the men. He then suggested that rape was even more unlikely because she was unattractive.
"Unveil her and see her face and tell me if she deserves to get married with anyone," he said during the proceedings.
After the sentencing on Wednesday, he expressed anger. "I would prefer Mullah Mohammed Omar's regime to this unjust government," he said, referring to the Taliban's former leader.
Several observers said the case demonstrated some of the problems with the Afghan Local Police, a militia trained by US Special Operations troops. "It is important that they were brought to Kabul and to justice, not only to get punishment but so that they get negative publicity for the bad things they do," said Fawzia Koofi, a member of Parliament.
Lal Bibi, who appeared in court covered by a burqa, testified briefly but was weeping so profusely that it was difficult to understand her words.
Afterwards, her grandfather, Hajji Rustam, said the family was satisfied with the verdict, although they would have preferred hanging, and with the government for bringing the culprits to justice. "We are happy that the government listened to us, and our trust in the government and the enforcement of law is growing; now we know there is someone who hears our voices and who can be relied on in times of hardship and problems," he said.
The family initially fled to the provincial capital, Kunduz, for safety. However, instead of seeking a deal with their daughter's persecutors or following the brutal, traditional practice of killing her to redeem the family's honour because she had been tainted by rape, they decided to seek justice through the government - an extraordinary step.
Now the 12 local tribal elders who came with them to Kabul for support would head back to Kunduz with a message of hope for other families there, Rustam said.
"Every single one of over one dozen tribal leaders who are travelling with me is going to take a message to their villages that they can trust the government and that they shouldn't be afraid of any armed men, and that there is a government that will hear their voice," he said.