'Afghan Girl' Sharbat Gula to Be Released From Prison

The famous refugee could have received 14 years in jail, but now she will return to her home country of Afghanistan.

After nearly two weeks in a Pakistan jail, the Afghan woman known worldwide for her iconic portrait on the cover of National Geographic will be deported to her home country of Afghanistan, a judge ruled Friday.

Sharbat Gula pleaded guilty in a northwestern Pakistan court to using an unauthorized identification card. She was sentenced to 15 days in jail and ordered to pay a fine of 110,000 rupees (about $1,050 U.S.) She has already served 11 days and could be released early next week, Mohsin Dawar, one of her lawyers, told National Geographic.

She had faced up to 14 years in prison if she had been convicted of using a fake ID.

Aside from her legal troubles, Sharbat Gula, a mother of three, suffers from hepatitis C. Her husband, Rahmat Gul, a baker, died of hepatitis about four years ago. When her lawyers failed to win her release on bail after her arrest, she was transferred to a hospital in Peshawar.

The Afghan government has been putting diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to release Sharbat Gula on humanitarian grounds, given her ill health and her status as an international symbol of refugees.


Sharbat Gula leaves a court in Peshawar, Pakistan, on November 4, after learning she will soon be released.
PHOTOGRAPH BY A MAJEED, AFP, GETTY IMAGES

Omar Zakhiwal, the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, told National Geographic that transferring Sharbat Gula to a wing of Lady Reading Hospital where prisoners are routinely treated was "not out of any emergency concern, but rather it was the second best option" after bail was denied. She stayed in a private room and her children were able to visit, he said.

Zakhilwal said Afghanistan's most famous refugee will be embraced when she returns home. She will be met by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the government will help resettle the family.

"With the utmost delight, I announce that Sharbat Gula is now free from the legal troubles she endured over the past couple of weeks," Zakhil wrote in a post on his Facebook page. "She soon will also be free from an uncertain life of a refugee as she will be as she will be on her way back to her own country as soon as next Monday where she still is a beloved image and a national icon."

The portrait of Sharbat Gula, whose piercing, sea-green eyes, made her an international symbol of refugees, first appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985. Photographer Steve McCurry photographed her as a young girl living in the largest refugee camp in Pakistan, where almost three million Afghans sought shelter in the wake of the 1979 invasion by the Soviet Union. In 2002, McCurry tracked Sharbat Gula down and photographed her again.

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