Mena Mangal was just 14 years old when her family promised her to a man. After being engaged for nearly 10 years, the couple finally married two years ago.
But that was not before Mangal’s fiancé had made several threats to her parents, who were having second thoughts, that he would kill their daughter if they did not make good on their promise.
They relented, but just days after the wedding, members of her husband’s family forcibly took Mangal to a secluded location where they beat and tortured her. Soon after, she filed for divorce and following a months-long, acrimonious court case, the marriage was formally terminated last week.
That is the version of events offered by Anisa Mangal, Mena’s mother, as she shrieks in sorrow, tears pouring down her cheeks.
On the morning of May 11, just days after the divorce was finalized, the 27-year-old was found lying face down in a pool of blood in a Kabul neighborhood after she was shot multiple times while waiting for a car to take her to work.
Her family accuses her ex-husband, Jawed, of killing their daughter, a prominent former journalist, political adviser, and women’s rights advocate. Police have said the case was likely a family dispute, and have launched a manhunt for her ex-husband.
Mangal’s brazen killing in broad daylight in the heart of the capital is just the latest in a number of slayings of Afghan women in public positions over the past 18 years, including politicians, rights activists, policewomen, and teachers.
Some of the women have been slain in so-called “honor” killings carried out by their own families in the deeply conservative and religious country. Other women have been killed by militant groups that object to women having public roles and speaking about women’s rights.
Despite women making significant inroads since the end of Taliban rule in 2001, domestic abuse remains routine, forced marriages are the norm, and women are discouraged from pursuing careers.
‘Threatened To Kill Her’
Anisa Mangal says her daughter’s ex-husband was “unstable” and that the family wanted to terminate the engagement. “But he threatened to kill her if we didn’t approve the marriage,” she tells RFE/RL. “Mena didn’t have a choice because she didn’t want to create enmity between the families.”
She says that just a week after the couple married, Jawed and a dozen male members of his family drove Mangal to an unknown location where they beat and tortured her. “I still have her bloody clothes,” says her mother, wiping her tears with a black shawl.
Zalmay Mangal, her uncle, tells RFE/RL that her niece had “problems” with her in-laws. “The case went to court and was very complicated.”
Anisa Mangal says the family filed a case at the prosecutor’s office. But she claims the office did not investigate, and dismissed the case.
Jamshed Rasuli, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, rejects the claims. He says the case was used as evidence in granting Mangal a divorce.
Divorce is taboo in Afghanistan and if a woman wants to get a divorce lawfully, she must navigate the male-dominated judicial system.
Women who report domestic abuse are sometimes arrested and imprisoned themselves. Women who flee forced marriages and abuse are sometimes killed by the husband or her own family.
In an emotional video uploaded to Facebook on May 11, Anisa Mangal called on the authorities to find her daughter’s killers. “Stand up for my daughter,” she pleads. “For God’s sake, punish the perpetrators.”
Mangal was born in Kabul to parents hailing from the southeastern province of Paktia. Jawed, who lived in Kabul, is also believed to be from the same province.
Fighting For Women’s Rights
Mangal said she feared for her life in a Facebook post on May 3 in which she revealed she had received threatening messages on social media. But she added defiantly that a strong woman was not afraid of death. She did not reveal who was sending her the threats, or why.
Mangal rose to prominence as a presenter for the private Ariana TV, the private Tolo TV’s Pashto-language channel Lamar, and the private national television broadcaster Shamshad TV.
She also ran popular social-media pages that discussed the rights of Afghan women to work and Afghan girls to attend school.
Mangal wrote extensively about being forced into an arranged marriage in 2017 and the process she had to go through to obtain a divorce.
She recently became an adviser to the Religious and Cultural Affairs Committee in the lower house of Afghanistan’s parliament.
Mangal’s killing prompted widespread condemnation and calls by journalists and rights activists to protect women.
“In a country where my life is in danger as a journalist, I want the government not to show appreciation for our work but to focus on how to protect us,” Zalma Kharooty, an Afghan female journalist, wrote on Facebook on May 12.
Afghanistan is the world’s deadliest country for journalists, with 15 killed in 2018 alone. At least four reporters have been killed this year.
Shagufa Noorzai, a member of parliament and Mangal’s colleague, said in a tweetthat her death was part of a wider trend of women and girls being targeted. Noorzai mentioned the case of 6-year-old Mahsa, who was kidnapped and killed in Kabul in March, and the killing of 27-year-old Farkhunda Malikzada, who was beaten to death by a mob in Kabul in 2015 after being falsely accused of burning a copy of the Koran.