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Afghan Lawmaker Appears To Threaten Female Journalist With Rape

Nazir Ahmad Hanafi, VICE interview, screen capture.
Nazir Ahmad Hanafi, VICE interview, screen capture.

A new documentary that explores the rights of women in Afghanistan features a clip in which a member of parliament appears to threaten his female interviewer with rape. Now, he is demanding an apology.

The apparent threat from leading cleric and lawmaker Nazir Ahmad Hanafi is made during a testy interview conducted by Isobel Yeung, a reporter for the documentary series Vice on HBO.

"What if a husband rapes his wife, is that domestic abuse?" Yeung asks Hanafi while querying him about his opposition to Afghan legislation that would eliminate violence against women. "Should the man be punished or should the woman be punished for that, in your opinion?"

Speaking through an interpreter, the two debate the definition of rape, culminating with the parliament member from Herat saying, "There is a kind of rape you have and another we have in Islam."

Yeung begins to ask a follow-up question, "Do you think women should be allowed...", but is abruptly cut off by Hanafi, who tells someone off-camera that "I think you should stop it now."

The clip then shows Yeung sitting silently as a conversation in Dari plays out. The cleric is then captured on film suggesting that she should be raped. "Hand her over to an Afghan man so he can give it to her so hard it'll come out her nose," he says under his breath.

The exchange was revealed in a promotional video for the documentary Afghan Women's Rights And Floating Armories, which aired on HBO on April 10.

Hanafi, however, when queried by RFE/RL about his comments, initially denied having ever spoken to Yeung. "I haven't met such a person, I have no idea about this, and have not said anything," Hanafi told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on April 9, a day after the promotional clip emerged. "No one has spoken with me."

He continued to deny having participated in the interview, suggesting that someone made a fake video featuring his likeness. "It's very simple to make a video," he said. "There are people who put together a head, a beard, and a body in a video that would look more authentic than the real person."

Under further questioning, Hanafi eventually admitted to having participated in an interview. "When we were talking about marriage issues," he recalled, "I told her, 'If you want to know about it, you can marry an Afghan man.'"

When asked if he would apologize if it was determined that he had, in fact, made the remarks, Hanafi struck a defiant tone. "What else do you want? There is a person who fabricated this [video] and I should ask that person why they did it," he said. "Who should apologize? Me or those who distributed [videos] against me? They are plotting against a person who is minding his own business."

RFE/RL has yet to view the full documentary, or the unedited version of Yeung's exchange with Hanafi, to determine the precise sequence of events. In the case of his rape comment, for instance, a man is seen in the background who does not appear in different camera angles during Hanafi and Young's exchange.

But there is no question that Hanafi made the rape comment during the session, translated by Vice/HBO as "Maybe I should give you to an Afghan man to take your nose off," and that it has caused a stir.

Responding to a tweet noting that Hanafi had denied participating in the interview, Yeung replied, "Perhaps it was more memorable for me than it was for him."

In a separate "debrief" video promoting the documentary in which Yeung spoke about her work in Afghanistan, she described her interview with Hanafi as "incredibly awkward and very frustrating."

The documentary seeks to highlight the plight of women in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Hanafi, a lawmaker from the western Herat Province, has opposed the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act, which was decreed by former President Hamid Karzai in 2009 to much fanfare, but has yet to be passed by parliament.

Hanafi appears uncomfortable with the questioning at various points of the interview, and at times seems to be avoiding eye contact with Yeung. "He refused to look at me, he talked to my translator, he talked over me, he didn't listen to my questions," the reporter said.

The reporter explained that she thought it was understood by everyone that "Hanafi felt rather hostile toward me being a woman," and that she believes the translator "thought it wise not to translate everything that he was saying."

This, Yeung said, meant she didn't "actually realize a lot of the abuse that he [Hanafi] was throwing my way."

Written by Farangis Najibullah with an interview by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Mustafa Sarwar

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the region’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.


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    Mustafa Sarwar

    Mustafa Sarwar is a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi in Prague.