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Sahar Gul: The fears of a tortured Afghan child bride

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Media captionSahar Gul was married at 12 and then brutally assaulted by her husband and his family

Afghan child bride Sahar Gul is appealing against the early release of the people who tortured her. The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Kabul considers what it means for the future of women's rights in the country.

Sahar Gul's story shocked people around the world and led to outrage in Afghanistan, where treatment of women is always under scrutiny.

She had been married at the age of 12 - her husband was considerably older - then brutally assaulted by him and his family.

Police eventually rescued her last year from a cellar where she had been imprisoned and starved. Her injuries were horrific - her nails had been pulled out and she had been burned with cigarette butts. She almost died.

Eighteen months later I meet her. Now 15, she has made an incredible recovery and her physical scars have healed.

But last week, a Supreme Court judge released her father-in-law, his wife and Sahar's sister-in-law who were meant to serve a 10-year-prison sentence for attempted murder. Sahar's husband absconded after the case came to light and he has never been apprehended.

Twisting a handkerchief in her hands, Sahar tells me she is terrified.

"I was so upset to hear the news. They told me they would kill me if they ever got out.

"I am really afraid they'll come after me now."

Progress reversed?

Her lawyer Kimberly Motley, who is from the United States, say they were completely shocked by the court ruling and were not even told it was coming.

"She's only a child. This shouldn't have happened to her or anybody.

"There is no reason for the perpetrators to have been released. So we are appealing against it."

Even President Hamid Karzai is said to be concerned and his office has been in touch with the women's group that has been taking care of Sahar.

Afghan women have made some visible progress in the past decade but there are some signs that this may be reversing.

Campaigners say in the past few months more than 30 women have died in the country because of domestic violence.

Image caption Women's rights groups fear that progress made in recent years could be reversed

"At the moment, we have two women in hospital who are recovering after their husband's slashed their throats," says Manizha Nadiri, executive director of Women for Afghan Women.

"And there is another case of a woman whose relatives cut off her ears and nose."

Women, admittedly, have made some progress in Afghanistan in the past decade. They have entered the workforce and have taken on challenging, even leadership roles.

More than three million women now go to school, something that they were not allowed to do under the Taliban.

Conservative strength

But Afghanistan is now entering a difficult phase, politically. By the end of next year, most Western troops would have left - there are genuine concerns that the Taliban could well be back in some form.

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Media captionSahar Gul: "My mother-in-law pulled out my nails"

"There are so many people who are afraid that the Taliban may come back," says Ms Nadiri.

"So conservative elements are becoming stronger."

The lower house of parliament recently passed a law which prevents relatives from testifying against each other, something which could make it almost impossible for cases of domestic violence to ever get through court.

And President Hamid Karzai recently appointed five conservatives to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, including a cleric who served under the Taliban and another with links to a radical Islamic party.

Back at her shelter, Sahar Gul is quite clear in what she expects from the court.

"I want them back in jail and punished.

"They made me miserable - I want them to suffer the way I suffered."

It has been a hard battle for her to survive a horrendous ordeal and she has still got a fight on her hands.

But there is growing concern that if hardline groups such as the Taliban begin to extend their influence once again, it could become a lot more difficult for her, and for Afghan women.

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