Stones and abuse flung at women protesting rape law

Thu, Apr 16, 2009, 01:00

ISLAMIC TRADITIONALISTS flung abuse and even a few stones at hundreds of Afghan women protesting against a law which the UN says legalises marital rape, during occasionally ugly confrontations in Kabul yesterday.

About 200 women were met by a roughly equal number of mostly male counter-protesters calling for “death to the enemies of Islam” and furiously condemning attempts to repeal a law that has antagonised western leaders.

Some of the women hitched their normally all-covering burqas above their heads to chant slogans, calling for women’s rights and holding banners objecting to “Taliban laws”.

One of the demonstrators, Soraya Sobrang, head of the women’s affairs division of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, said the counter-protesters were “like the Taliban”.

“They want women to be servants and all they talk about is the bedroom, not more important things. But they do not represent the people of Afghanistan.”

Riot police with batons kept the sides apart during the unusual demonstration outside the Khatam Alnabiin mosque – the seat of Mohamad Asif Mohseni, a Shia cleric who had strongly promoted the law, which was quietly signed by President Hamid Karzai last month.

One man got close enough to spit on a young woman when the counter-demonstration surged towards police lines. Until yesterday, most of the controversy over the law was confined to the international press and a few activists and politicians in Afghanistan.

Media coverage of the law, which only affects Afghanistan’s Shia minority, sparked international condemnation earlier in the month, with Barack Obama describing it as “abhorrent”.

Of particular concern are the provisions which enforce women to have sex with their husbands every four days, unless she is unwell or menstruating.

Yesterday’s protest was, however, a rare moment when Afghanistan’s culture wars burst into the open. One of Ayatollah Mohseni’s followers, student Mohamad Haidari, said the women had been paid to demonstrate by “European countries, by foreigners”.

He defended the part of the new law that says women can only leave home with good reason: “If she’s a housewife, where is she going to go, why does she need to go out?”

– (Guardian service)