An Afghan cleric has been jailed for 20 years for raping an 11-year old girl, her lawyer and activists said Sunday, after the child confronted her attacker in court despite fierce family opposition.
Activists said the girl appeared in court after being taken to a women's shelter for safety from some members of her own family, who had threatened to kill her for bringing "dishonour" on them.
The sentence, passed by a court in Kabul on Saturday, came just weeks after five men were hanged for the gang-rape of four adult women and was hailed as a victory by activists.
Hasina Sarwari, the head in Kunduz province of the Women for Afghan Women (WAW) non-government organisation, said the student at a mosque school was raped in May by Mohammad Aminullah Barez, a local mullah who taught the girls religious studies.
She first tried to hide what had happened to her but was later admitted to hospital for bleeding, where doctors discovered the rape. The mullah was arrested by police later.
"We are happy for the court's decision but we wanted him to be executed," Sarwari told AFP. Her organisation supported the girl in her case and gave her shelter in Kabul.
"After the rape happened the family of the girl wanted to kill her out of shame, even the nurses were not ready to treat her when she was bleeding in the hospital," she said.
"They would shout 'May you die, you brought disgrace to our family!' and 'We will kill you and dump your body in the river'.
"We got scared too, but we somehow managed to sneak her out of the hospital and take her to a WAW shelter," she added.
The girl was later brought to Kabul where she was treated for genital injuries and kept in a women's shelter before she appeared in court.
Shaima Qasemi, the girl's lawyer, said the girl cried in court and shouted for the Mullah to be hanged.
"For now she is happy to see that the Mullah who committed the crime has been sentenced to jail," she added.
Mohammad Rasool, the girl's uncle who was among those who backed her, said: "We welcome the decision by the Kabul court."
- 'Victory for women' -
Benafsha Efaf Amiri, another member of the WAW, said that although the cleric had admitted having sex with the girl, he tried to persuade the court it was consensual and he should therefore only receive 100 lashes as punishment.
Judge Sulaiman Rasouli rejected that argument because it would entail lashing the girl too and treating her as an adulterer rather than a rape victim.
Amiri hailed the verdict as a victory for Afghan women, who still face violence despite reforms since the fall of the hardline Islamist Taliban in 2001.
"Our assessment from yesterday's court session has made us optimistic for ensuring justice and for ensuring the rights of women of Afghanistan," she said.
Of the 17 rape cases her organisation had helped with this year, four have resulted in succesful prosecutions while the rest remain pending, she told AFP.
It was also termed a "just verdict" by the Women's Affairs ministry in a statement to the media.
Women's rights have been central to the multi-billion-dollar international development effort in Afghanistan, but they still endure routine discrimination, abuse and violence.
Under the Taliban's harsh version of Islamic law, women were forced to wear the all-enveloping burqa, banned from jobs, and forbidden even to leave the house without a male chaperone.
Amin's lawyers are expected to appeal to try to reduce the sentence.