They Killed Their Husbands. Now in Prison, They Feel Free. - PhMuseum

They Killed Their Husbands. Now in Prison, They Feel Free.

Kiana Hayeri

2019 - 2020

Herat, Afghanistan

Violence against women is rampant in Afghanistan. As a Persian saying goes, “a woman enters her husband’s house wearing white and leaves his house wearing white,” referring to the shroud that wraps the dead before burial. That very well could have been the fate of some of these women. Instead, they left in handcuffs and found peace, freedom and hope inside a prison.

This is the story of women who have been pushed so far that they saw no other way out of their abusive marriages but to murder their husbands. Many did to save their lives and their children's.

The 15-foot walls that surround the Herat Women’s Prison are common to government properties in Afghani­stan, as is the corrugated-metal gate, which is guarded by security personnel day and night. The concertina wire that encircles the walls gives the compound a cagelike feeling, but the barriers are meant to keep intruders from getting in as much as they are intended to keep inmates from getting out.

Behind bars, they have found a semblance of peace — or at least a place less violent than the one they killed to escape. The prison grounds are a quiet world of cement walkways, courtyards carpeted in artificial turf and overgrown gardens of trees and weeds. Barefoot children play on what remains of a playground. Mothers watch as their sons and daughters play and grow, as if this were a backyard in any ordinary neighborhood.

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  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 5/27/19 | An overview of Herat women prison.

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 5/26/19 | Female inmates break their fast together with the food provided by the prison together in their rooms.

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 4/1/19 | Nafas (20) cares for the new born baby of one of the prison guards. Most female guards working inside the prison are not educated and have kids. They bring in the younger kids to the prison and pay very little money to their trusted prisoners to care for them while they're on duty. As a girl, Nafas, 20, was promised to a drug-addicted relative, a man 17 years older. Before they married, he beat her, leaving her with scars. She protested the union for a year, appealing to her parents and brothers. “Even if you die, you have to marry him,” they told her. When they wouldn’t relent, Nafas took her brother’s gun and shot her husband. He died from the wound. “I had to do it,” Nafas says.

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 4/9/19 | Incarcerated women practice hair styling skills at the weekly make-up workshop on one of the staffs who volunteered to sit in for them.

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 4/6/19 | One of the prison guards attend her son while she is on duty. Almost all the guards have kids and bring the younger ones with them to work. On visitation day, prison guards gather by the front gate and share breakfast as they check and body search visitors who have come to meet with their incarcerated loved ones.

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 5/26/19 | Parisa (22) bathes her 1 year-old-daughter, Fatema. Her son, Mohammad Erfan, was taken away by her in-laws by force, about 6 weeks earlier. Parisa was 16 when she was married off to a distant relative in Gozare Village in Siahshah district of Herat province, a district known to be controlled by Taliban. Her husband was a Taliban fighter and she lived with him a total of 5 years before she shot him dead. Her son, Mohammad Erfan (3) and her daughter, Fatema (a little over one year old) both live with her inside the prison. She has been incarcerated for 7 months.
    Parisa’s husband was a violent man, constantly beating her up. He used to tie her hands and feet and beat her with a large wooden stick. On several occasions, he intentionally broke her bones, once strangled her, used to lock her up inside the house, some time for several days at a time. Her family wanted to get her divorced but because he was a Taliban fighter, they were too afraid to stand against him.

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 3/31/19 | Herat prison at the time of our visit holds 133 female prisoners, and 36 children below the age of 5, who live with their moms inside the prison.

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 4/7/19 | After volleyball game, Foroozan (38) and another female inmate do a little swirling in the court yard of the prison.
    Foroozan was married off at 17 to a man who was 25 years older than her. Her husband was violent, aggressive, strict and addicted. "In the 15 years I lived with him, I barely left the house 15 times," she said.
    Mother to three children, Foroozan noticed her husband was being inappropriate to her oldest daughter, Mozjda who was 10 at a times. On several occasion Foroozan caught her husband molesting her daughter and on the day she murdered her husband, she walked into the room and her husband threatened her that he will beat her with the wooden stick, if she doesn't leave the room. The couple get into a fight and Foroozan's oldest son, Maqsood (12 at the time) comes to help. After police shows up, Foroozan and her three children were all arrested and out into hail. Maqsood served 2 years at Juvenile Rehabilitation Center and fled Afghanistan on foot. He is now 14 and resides in Germany. Her daughters, Mozjda (15) and Mahtab (13) were moved to a safe house after they were released. And Foroozan still has 5 more years to serve.

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 5/26/19 | Foroozan (38) initiated a major clean up for the Eid al-adha, by taking all the carpets out to be washed and corridors being freshly painted out of the pockets of the prisoners who have all pitched in to cover the cost and help.
    Foroozan was married off at 17 to a man who was 25 years older than her. Her husband was violent, aggressive, strict and addicted. "In the 15 years I lived with him, I barely left the house 15 times," she said.
    Mother to three children, Foroozan noticed her husband was being inappropriate to her oldest daughter, Mozjda who was 10 at a times. On several occasion Foroozan caught her husband molesting her daughter and on the day she murdered her husband, she walked into the room and her husband threatened her that he will beat her with the wooden stick, if she doesn't leave the room. The couple get into a fight and Foroozan's oldest son, Maqsood (12 at the time) comes to help. After police shows up, Foroozan and her three children were all arrested and out into hail. Maqsood served 2 years at Juvenile Rehabilitation Center and fled Afghanistan on foot. He is now 14 and resides in Germany. Her daughters, Mozjda (15) and Mahtab (13) were moved to a safe house after they were released. And Foroozan still has 5 more years to serve.

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 4/1/19 | Nahid breaks into tears after she shares her story. She spends most of her time on her bunker bed, alone, watching TV and smoking cigarettes. She exhibits signs of depression with self harming scars visible on her forearm.
    Her husband was addicted to different substances throughout the year. She lived with him for 15 years and all those years, she was the the sole breadwinner to the house. He used to beat her regularly, stabbed her on a few occasions and even shot her once. There are multiple stabbing wounds visible on her abdominal, and her arms and a gunshot scar on her left shoulder where a bullet entered from one side and exited from the other side. All allegedly done to her by her husband. He was even imprisoned a few times, once for six months. Nahid had hoped that he would have learned from it and stop abusing her but there was no improvement. “He had gone crazy, I knew he was gonna seriously harm me or my children at some point. One day when we were fighting, it got out of my hand and I shot him.”

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 4/1/19 | An old photo of Nahid and her husband and their first son at Mazar-i Sharif.
    Her husband was addicted to different substances throughout the year. She lived with him for 15 years and all those years, she was the the sole breadwinner to the house. He used to beat her regularly, stabbed her on a few occasions and even shot her once. There are multiple stabbing wounds visible on her abdominal, and her arms and a gunshot scar on her left shoulder where a bullet entered from one side and exited from the other side. All allegedly done to her by her husband. He was even imprisoned a few times, once for six months. Nahid had hoped that he would have learned from it and stop abusing her but there was no improvement. “He had gone crazy, I knew he was gonna seriously harm me or my children at some point. One day when we were fighting, it got out of my hand and I shot him.”

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 4/7/19 | Nafas (20) and another prisoner play climb the entrance gate to release the volleyball ball that was stuck in the barbed wire while the girls were playing in the courtyard.

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 4/1/19 | Wahida (23), who chose not to reveal her face, sits next to her daughter, Mahtab, who was born and raised inside the prison. She's seen nothing but this prison, its playground and its 17 cells. Wahida was arrested when she was 7 months pregnant, convicted for helping her sister-in-law to murder her husband.

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 5/26/19 | Foroozan (38) blows bubbles, entertaining some of the kids who live inside the prisons with their mothers.
    Foroozan was married off at 17 to a man who was 25 years older than her. Her husband was violent, aggressive, strict and addicted. "In the 15 years I lived with him, I barely left the house 15 times," she said.
    Mother to three children, Foroozan noticed her husband was being inappropriate to her oldest daughter, Mozjda who was 10 at a times. On several occasion Foroozan caught her husband molesting her daughter and on the day she murdered her husband, she walked into the room and her husband threatened her that he will beat her with the wooden stick, if she doesn't leave the room. The couple get into a fight and Foroozan's oldest son, Maqsood (12 at the time) comes to help. After police shows up, Foroozan and her three children were all arrested and out into hail. Maqsood served 2 years at Juvenile Rehabilitation Center and fled Afghanistan on foot. He is now 14 and resides in Germany. Her daughters, Mozjda (15) and Mahtab (13) were moved to a safe house after they were released. And Foroozan still has 5 more years to serve.

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 5/26/19 | Fatima's distant relative have brought sheep heads to be cooked for Iftar and shared with her out cellmates. The sheep heads are being inspected by prison guards to make sure nothing is being smuggled by them.
    Fatema was very young when she was married off to her cousin, who was addicted to different substances. He used to beat her repeatedly in her head, so frequently that it has left her impaired for life. “I used to eat spoiled food and expose myself to the cold so that I get sick and die. I was hoping death would free me from the miserable life I had. The abuse went on until I couldn’t stand his cruelty anymore, I went crazy and strangled him." Her first and second court appearance led to death sentenced, only her third court appeal led to 20 years in prison. “Would I have put myself in prison and orphaned my kids if I hadn’t gone through so much brutality? 7 years in prison and I have had no visitors.”

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 4/9/19 | Fatema hand washes her clothes on the side of prison's small courtyard. Even though younger incarcerated women often offer her to wash her clothes due to the chronic pain she suffers from, she refuses to receive any help.
    Fatema was very young when she was married off to her cousin, who was addicted to different substances. He used to beat her repeatedly in her head, so frequently that it has left her impaired for life. “I used to eat spoiled food and expose myself to the cold so that I get sick and die. I was hoping death would free me from the miserable life I had. The abuse went on until I couldn’t stand his cruelty anymore, I went crazy and strangled him." Her first and second court appearance led to death sentenced, only her third court appeal led to 20 years in prison. “Would I have put myself in prison and orphaned my kids if I hadn’t gone through so much brutality? 7 years in prison and I have had no visitors.”

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 4/1/19 | Nahid (35) shows the scars that bear witness to what her husband had put her through. Her husband was addicted to different substances throughout the year. She lived with him for 15 years and all those years, she was the the sole breadwinner to the house. He used to beat her regularly, stabbed her on a few occasions and even shot her once. There are multiple stabbing wounds visible on her abdominal, and her arms and a gunshot scar on her left shoulder where a bullet entered from one side and exited from the other side. All allegedly done to her by her husband. He was even imprisoned a few times, once for six months. Nahid had hoped that he would have learned from it and stop abusing her but there was no improvement. “He had gone crazy, I knew he was gonna seriously harm me or my children at some point. One day when we were fighting, it got out of my hand and I shot him.”

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 5/26/19 | An inmate threads Parisa's face (19) who is being released in a short few hours. The news of her release only brought sadness and tears to her. "My family will imprison me at home, a prison way worst than here," she said. "They won't even let me out of the house, let alone going to university." Parisa was arrested at a party and charged with moral crimes.

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 4/7/19 | Leilimah (37) and her twin sister chat in the room. The twins barely ever leave their bunker bed.
    The sisters are from Gharian district of Herat. While her sister is wrongly fully accused of murdering her husband, Lailima has accepted the charges. Her husband, unemployed and abusive, used to force her into prostitution and would beat her up when and if she refused. He sold off his oldest daughter, Farigol, at the age of 7, to a man that they had never met and was an illegal migrant working in Iran. They day Lailima lost it and stabbed her husband to death was the day he brought a man home to prostitute Farigol out who was 10 at the time. She was initially sentenced to death but on her second court appeal it was reduced to 20 years in prison.
    “The other night, I called my daughter in Iran, asked her if she has forgiven me for killing her father. If she would still love me when I get out of the prison. She said, he was never a father to us. thanked me for pulling them and myself out of that miserable life”
    Her daughter is now married to the illegal migrant in Iran and is taking care of all of her siblings.

  • HERAT | AFGHANISTAN | 4/8/19 | Parisa (22) sweeps the cell she shares with other inmates inside Herat prison. The ladies take turn in doing daily chorus. Parisa was 16 when she was married off to a distant relative in Gozare Village in Siahshah district of Herat province, a district known to be controlled by Taliban. Her husband was a Taliban fighter and she lived with him a total of 5 years before she shot him dead. Her son, Mohammad Erfan (3) and her daughter, Fatema (a little over one year old) both live with her inside the prison. She has been incarcerated for 7 months.
    Parisa’s husband was a violent man, constantly beating her up. He used to tie her hands and feet and beat her with a large wooden stick. On several occasions, he intentionally broke her bones, once strangled her, used to lock her up inside the house, some time for several days at a time. Her family wanted to get her divorced but because he was a Taliban fighter, they were too afraid to stand against him.


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