Women protesting at 'pro-rape' law attacked by Afghan men

Hamid Karzai's repressive new legislation provoked violent scenes in Kabul yesterday. Jerome Starkey witnessed the anger

Women marching against new legislation which effectively legalises rape met violent opposition from an opposing mob in Kabul yesterday.

Dozens of riot police, backed by more than 50 elite counter-terrorism officers, struggled to keep the groups apart as hordes of men charged at the protesters, who had taken to the streets near Afghanistan's parliament.

At one point the women , who were marching to parliament to deliver a petition, were pelted with stones. Men chanted "long live Islam" and spat at the women who had assembled outside a mosque built by Ayatollah Mohseni, the Shia cleric who helped draft the law. At a separate demonstration, police fired into the air to disperse a mob surrounding a school accused of organising the protests.

The legislation restricts a woman's right to leave her home and demands she submit to her husband's sexual desires. Sima Ghani, one of the women's organisers, said: "This law is against Islam and it's against women. It's against the people of Afghanistan."

Most of those protesting against the law were young Shia women who took to the streets despite the threat of violence. Earlier this week, one of Afghanistan's leading women's rights activists was murdered at her home.

The UN has warned that a number of women have already received death threats for speaking out against the Shia Family Law, which President Hamid Karzai signed last month.

Most of the men were part of a counter-demonstration. Hundreds of them charged at riot police while a cordon of female police officers held hands in a ring around the women, to try to protect them.

"Women have God-given rights," said Ms Ghani. "But these men are claiming those rights in the name of culture. It is against everything God has ever given us."

Both groups chanted "Allah Akbar," or God is great. The men called the women "un-Islamic dogs" in a series of abusive chants. Others screamed "death to America". In reply, the women cried: "Afghanistan is a country of lionesses. We want our rights."

Sayed Sajat, a 22-year-old student who was part of the counter-protest, said: "We must trust Allah, instead of listening to the Western countries and the European countries who come here to meddle and interfere."

In a Shia neighbourhood a few miles away police opened fire to disperse a mob that began ransacking a school. Aziz Royesh, the headmaster at the Marefat School, said local mullahs had accused him of helping to organise the women's protest.

"Around 40 or 50 people came here and surrounded the school," he said. "They said we were unbelievers. I tried to talk to them but they wouldn't listen. They smashed the windows, kicked down the doors and they beat up two of our teachers."

Dozens of riot police were stationed in the neighbourhood last night, amid fears that violence might flare a second time. "The police opened fire and people stoned the school," said one of the local mullahs, Asadullah Yousefi. "We don't know if anyone was injured."

Politicians on both sides claim President Karzai signed the law to win support from hardline Shia clerics, but he has since ordered a Supreme Court review following widespread international protests led by US President Barack Obama. Mr Obama called the law "abhorrent". Some Nato countries have threatened to withdraw troops unless the law is repealed.

The law regulates the personal affairs of the minority Shia community. It stipulates that a man can expect to have sex with his wife at least once every four nights, it negates the need for sexual consent within marriage, and it gives husbands the right to demand their wives wear make-up.

As women marched past the mosque, waving banners demanding equality, a similar number of men poured out of the seminary on to the street waving their fists and running at riot police.

"These women are not Muslims," screamed a man who said he was a mullah. "They are just troublemakers. They do not represent anyone."

Sabrina Saqeb, an MP and one of the protest's organisers, said the demonstration was evidence of a groundswell of support for women's rights.

"Afghan women have raised their voices and they proved this isn't what the international community is imposing on Afghanistan, these are the demands of Afghan women," she said.

"People threw stone at us, some people were hit with sticks, and they called us bad names, but what can you expect? These people are the same as the Taliban. There's no difference."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Foundation Primary Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are looking for Founda...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?