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Afghan sues police over daughter's murder

An Afghan mother launches a landmark lawsuit to find justice for her murdered daughter.
Last modified: 23 Jan 2013 13:09
After her daughter was murdered, Anisa Azam sued the Afghan police for failing to do their job [Jennifer Glasse/Al Jazeera]

Anisa Azam is a small woman with extraordinary courage. Her lined face makes her look older than her 40-something years, and there is a permanent sadness about her.

Last March her daughter Khatera was murdered. Azam tried to prevent it: A few weeks before the death, she and her daughter went to a Kabul police station to report a history of spousal abuse, and threats against her daughter. In addition to assaulting her, Khatera's husband Mohammed had also allegedly threatened her with a gun.

The police turned Azam and Khatera away. "They basically told them to come back when Khatera was dead," said Kimberley Motley, Azam's lawyer.

Articles 5, 7, 15 and 26 of the police code as well as the 2009 Elimination of Violence against Women Law meant the police should have recorded the complaint and, at the very least, referred the women to the Ministry of Women's Affairs.

"There's no rule in Afghanistan to help women, there's no rule of law," Azam said. "How could Khatera get help?"

Azam is taking the unique step of suing the police for not doing their job, and for failing to protect Khatera when she was alive.

"I don't believe that there's ever been a case where a citizen has filed a civil suit against a government for failing to do their job, especially involving a case of a woman being a victim," said Motley.

Motley and Khatera filed the case with the Afghan Attorney General's office in early December.

"We have a case number, 610. That's a step forward," Motley said. "With a case number, the authorities will have to deal with it one way or another."

Al Jazeera repeatedly requested interviews with the police named in the suit and the Attorney General's office, for six weeks. The police denied any wrongdoing but would not speak on camera. A spokesman at the Attorney General's headquarters said the office was not computerised and finding the case was difficult, and that the case number did not help.

The Afghan women's affairs minister says attacks against women are increasingly brutal, and on the rise. According to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, violence against women in Afghanistan rose 22 percent in the last six months of 2012 compared to the same period in the previous year.

That rise may be in part because there are now more places to report crimes against women, like a small office at police station number 4 in Kabul. Two policewomen spend their days taking complaints from women. Told about Khatera's case, policewoman Nadira Kashmiri said that although the incident with the police may have happened, it was a rare occurance.

"Some policemen may not know the law, may not know women's rights," she said. "You shouldn't see the problem through one or two bad policemen.  It's not like that everywhere."

Azam says she is willing to wait for her day in court. While Khatera's husband Mohammad Naim has been sentenced to seven years in jail for the murder, Azam says it is not clear whether he is really in jail. She says he has been seen walking freely in Kapisa province, where he was sentenced.

Azam's suit asks for financial compensation from the police, Naim, and his parents, whom she believes were complicit in the murder, citing Article 51 of the Afghan constitution and Article 6 of the Elimination of Violence against Women Law.  What Azam really wants is access to Khatera's son, her grandson Abbasi, who turns three years old this year. She has not seen him since Khatera's death.