She is a medical student at Kabul University. In the video, which was widely shared on social media this week, she cries as she describes being forced to marry the Taliban’s interior ministry spokesman six months ago.
“(He) hit me a lot. He raped me every night.” She tried to escape and was turned back at the border and locked in an apartment by the Taliban. “These could be my last words. He’s going to kill me, but it’s better to die once than every time.” On the video, she says she fears being stoned to death for being an infidel and asks to be saved.
On Wednesday, a day after the video surfaced, Afghanistan’s Taliban-controlled Supreme Court announced that she had been arrested and “will soon be sentenced under Sharia law.” No one may tarnish the Mujahideen’s name or defame the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the 20 years of holy jihad.” No mention of a trial.
For his part, the former ministry spokesman tweeted Wednesday that he had divorced Elaha because she had “a belief problem.” It is reported that he has been fired from his public office as Speaker, but no reason has been given and no new post has been announced.
It’s hardly a secret that the Taliban have turned back the clock for women in Afghanistan. Since the takeover, women have been banned from going to school and working, and have to cover themselves literally except for their eyes when out in public.
There have been reports from Amnesty International and activists of rising numbers of forced marriages and rapes. In a way, there’s nothing really new or unusual about Elaha’s story.
But it’s one thing to read reports and another to hear directly on Facebook or Twitter or WhatsApp from a real woman with a name and a horrific story. The effect is simply greater than any message.
Social media has turned Elaha into something of a star; an influencer, sure; a celebrity for 15 minutes. and a goal. There is that too.
Social media attracts attention. But can it bring salvation? Can it save a rape victim from the Taliban?
What hope does she have?
Only we. Her only hope is that the same viral media that made her an international personality will save her life, that people like you and me who have seen or heard of the video who are reading right now will raise our voices.
And then what? Embarrass the Taliban? At least hold them accountable? We can raise our voices and hope they are heard. We can pressure our own government to stand up for them. This much we know: The Taliban responded on social media within 24 hours. They also tweeted. To what end?
Elaha’s plight begs the ultimate question: is social media capable of protecting those whose voice it amplifies?
We’re talking about the power of public opinion. People in Elaha’s shoes dream of attracting enough attention to transform themselves into salvation. But sometimes attention brings the wrong kind of response. This one is scary. Pray for Elaha. and raise your voice.
Susan Estrich is a columnist, political commentator, political activist and lawyer.