A Kabul attack on female actors leaves survivors facing more ‘punishment.’ Killing and death threats reveal depth of Afghan society’s prejudices against women.
Even after the taunts and threats for appearing on TV, and whispered criticism of “immodest” outfits, the attack on actor sisters Areza and Tamana, and their friend Benafsha, came as a surprise.
The trio were minutes from moving out of a neighbourhood in which conservative locals had made them feel unwelcome, walking to meet a minivan full of their possessions, when six men surrounded them in a lane, lined with high-walled compounds. They left Benafsha bleeding to death outside a mosque with stab wounds, and the injured sisters desperately seeking help.
“I didn’t see the TV programme, I just heard the local boys saying that one of them played a role with boys,” said Yaqin Ali Khalili, owner of a shop that the women frequented. “The hatred of the people here is the reason she was killed, I am 100% sure,” he added.
Word travels fast in Kabul, and in a couple of days other actresses were being intimidated. One prominent young actress, Sahar Parniyan, received death threats and has gone into hiding. On the rare occasions she still ventures out she has to wear the burqas she used to despise. “The threats were in calls at midnight, or 2amwhen I was deep asleep, using very bad words and repeating ‘you will be next for assassination’,”
Parniyan told the Guardian in an interview at a secret location. “I cannot continue my life as an actress in Afghanistan, although I love my job. The Taliban are against women, but so are other groups …Afghanistan is not made for women, whether actresses or not.”
The killing and death threats have fuelled fears that conservative pressures are shrinking opportunities for women in public roles.
Tamana had performed in the Emrooz television show, which sparked the most recent abuse, and her sister Areza had taken at least one small role, using the screen name Sadaf, in a popular satirical series, The Ministry, in which Parniyan also acts, according to its director. But although they survived the assault that killed their friend, they are now awaiting another kind of punishment.
After a few hours in hospital for treatment, they were taken to prison, where they face intrusive virginity tests and possible charges of prostitution or collusion in the attack. “We have already sent them to the forensic office to do an examination, to make clear whether these girls are having illegal relations with anyone,” said prosecutor Ghulam Dastegir Hedayat, responsible for westernKabul, where the killing took place.