Newspaper article International New York Times

Lovers' Plight Shakes Up Lives of Those Left Behind

Newspaper article International New York Times

Lovers' Plight Shakes Up Lives of Those Left Behind

Article excerpt

However matters turn out for an Afghan Romeo and Juliet who eloped into hiding, a happily-ever-after ending is eluding many of those in their orbit.

However matters eventually turn out for the Afghan Romeo and Juliet who eloped into hiding, a happily-ever-after ending is eluding many of those whose lives crossed theirs.

The couple, Zakia, 18, and Mohammad Ali, 21, fled their homes in mountainous Bamian Province after her family threatened her with an "honor killing" because she wanted to marry outside her ethnic group, and against her father's wishes.

They have stayed in hiding since their escape in March, but an Afghan official who helped Zakia evade almost certain death has now fled Afghanistan and is seeking asylum in Rwanda, where she was expected to arrive Monday.

Zakia's family, which included nine other children, many of them young, says it has been driven from its farm, resettling in Kabul to eke out an uncertain existence as day laborers. Mohammad Ali's family is still on its farm in Bamian, but his father and brother say they have been forced to mortgage most of their land to raise money to help the couple by bribing officials.

In part, his family says, the couple's escape was the only way out because the money to keep paying such bribes had run out, and they feared the courts would return Zakia to her family.

The couple's story began last year when Zakia fled her family's home and asked to be taken in by Mohammad Ali, declaring her love for him. That was such a contradiction of tradition that, although Zakia was legally an adult, Mohammad Ali's father, Anwar, took her to a women's shelter in Bamian Province.

Zakia said her family, members of the Tajik ethnic group and Sunni Muslims, opposed the match because Mohammad Ali is a Hazara and Shiite.

The matter went to court, where judges ordered Zakia returned to her family, despite her age and her wishes. Instead, the head of the Women's Affairs Ministry office in Bamian, Fatima Kazimi, intervened to keep her protected in a shelter, suspecting Zakia's family would kill her when they got her home. Her brothers and father have vowed in front of witnesses to kill Zakia and Mohammad Ali, and her own mother has denounced her as a whore.

But then on March 20, Zakia climbed the wall of the women's shelter in the middle of the night and eloped with Mohammad Ali, and they have remained in hiding since.

Ms. Kazimi said that she was blamed for engineering their escape, and that Zakia's family threatened her life as a result. She made it known that she wanted to flee the country, as did Zakia and Mohammad Ali.

The American philanthropist Miriam Adelson, the wife of the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, expressed an interest in helping the couple and anyone involved in their case, and she persuaded the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, to offer them asylum. …

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