Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Wednesday called on the Afghan government to release women and girls imprisoned in Afghanistan for "moral crimes" [press release], many of which involve flight from unlawful forced marriage or domestic violence and "zina," which is sex outside of marriage due to rape or forced prostitution. In particular, HRW called for the release of about 400 women and girls jailed because of these crimes and also urged the US and other donor countries to pressure President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to "end the wrongful imprisonment of women and girls who are crime victims rather than criminals." The plea stems from a comprehensive HRW report titled "I Had to Run Away": Women and Girls Imprisoned for "Moral Crimes" in Afghanistan [text, PDF], which is based on nearly 60 interviews with "moral crime" convicts and was conducted in three prisons and three detention facilities.
HRW has previously called on the Afghan government to protect the rights of women. In July 2010 the advocacy group criticized Karzai's integration and reconciliation efforts [JURIST report] to end the conflict with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, claiming that women's rights were bypassed in order to reach an expedient solution. Among HRW's criticisms was the president's decision to sign the Shia Personal Status Law [JURIST report; text, PDF], which legalized rape within marriage, and his pardon of two convicted rapists. In August HRW denounced the Shia Personal Status Law [JURIST report] as a violation of the Afghan Constitution [text] that undermined women's rights, despite an announcement in July 2009 that the provisions requiring a wife to submit to sex with her husband and to obtain his permission before leaving the home had been removed [JURIST report]. Women's rights in Afghanistan faced even greater opposition under the Taliban, which ruled the country from 1996-2001.