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Terrifying plight of Afghan actress

Parwin Mushthal
Parwin Mushthal has appeared in many productions, including this play, Soeurs (Photo: Sandra Calligaro)

Afghan actress Parwin Mushthal's passion for her job has exacted a heavy toll - resulting in the murder of her husband and forcing her to live in hiding with her two children.

Ms Mushthal's career choice appears to have upset the Taleban and their supporters.

She has received threatening telephone calls and abuse in the streets from people telling her to stop acting.

She told the BBC that she believes her continued defiance of those threats resulted in the shooting by unknown gunmen of her 39-year-old husband, a taxi driver, in Kabul in December.

Since then her life has been turned upside down.

Prostitution

Parwin Mushthal's interest in acting stemmed from her days at high school. She has appeared in more than 20 theatre productions and dozens of films and is a regular on Afghan televsion.

An Afghan woman holding her daughter
The re-emergence of the Taleban has profoundly affected the lives of women

She is currently in the television series, Bulbul, and has appeared in numerous adverts.

Her best known performances are in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, which was performed in the Dari language, and in Soeurs (which she co-created). Both productions were in collaboration with Kabul's Foundation for Culture and Civil Society.

But although Ms Mushthal was well known, she had to hide her career from her husband's family, because many people in Afghanistan link acting with immorality. Women who act can find themselves accused of prostitution.

"When his brothers came from the provinces to our home [in Kabul] as guests, we didn't put on the TV because I was always on ads," the 41-year-old told the BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

"I was scared that they would see it, so I would just put on a DVD and show them that," she said.

But as her fame grew, so did the level of threats against her. She began to receive warnings from people who recognised her.

"When I was going to work, people were standing in my way waiting for me," she said.

"They were usually on bikes and they were telling me that, 'you women shouldn't be here any more'."

At first she brushed the threats off but then things started to get worse.

"My husband... was getting phone calls from Khost Province asking him why he was letting his wife appear on TV," she said.

Ms Mushthal at first thought that the threats were not serious and could be connected to her choice of clothing, so she started to wear a big scarf.

"Then later, I understood that it was about me working on TV and that I should stop doing so," she said.

'Punched'

Over time, the attacks became more menacing.

"I was walking towards home and then a man came behind me on a bike and punched me in my back," said Ms Mushthal.

"I fell down in the street really badly, I still have a pain in my leg, because he punched me really hard.

I saw my husband lying down on the floor, his face was full of blood
Parwin Mushthal

"I was with my little son and I was crying and we were running to get home."

Her husband was concerned as to why she was in pain, but she did not want to worry him and just said that she had fallen and hurt her leg.

However, things took a turn for the worst as her husband became the target of a horrific attack.

"That night, this guy who killed my husband had been calling him constantly to come out [of our home]," said Parwin.

"My husband was very tired and he couldn't be bothered to go out. The same guy called the next day at around five o'clock in the evening and asked him to come and meet him.

"My husband went out, I realised that it was a bit late and it was getting dark."

When her husband failed to return home, she tried calling him but his phone was off. It was dark and there was no electricity.

"At eight o'clock, I heard a shooting, I couldn't go out because I was scared and very upset," said Parwin.

"I was alone with my kids as there was no other man in my family. I could feel that something had happened but I didn't know what.

"My children started crying and asking where their dad was. I couldn't do anything so I let them sleep and just said that dad would come."

Ms Mushthal locked the door and stayed awake all night, in fear that someone might come for her and her children, who are eight and nine.

'Our life was happy'

In the morning, she received shocking news from the police that her husband had been killed.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during International Women's Day
The Afghan president says that he wants to honour women's rights

"I saw my husband lying down on the floor, his face was full of blood. They didn't allow me to go near his body but you could see that they had shot him so many times. I was just shouting and crying," she said.

"That day my children were very upset and they were really scared, they kept holding and to me and saying, 'don't go out because they will kill you as well'."

Her husband's family took his body to Khost Province and she has now been in hiding for three months with her two children.

She also has to wear a full-length burka so that no one recognises her.

"I'm still in hiding, no one knows where I am," she said.

"Our life was really happy, we were really close to each other, he really loved me."

Parwin Mushthal is not alone.

Correspondents say there is marked sense of unease among many other working women in Kabul and other Afghan cities as the presence of the Taleban - who have made no secret for of their disapproval of women working - appears to grow ever stronger.



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SEE ALSO
Country profile: Afghanistan
25 Feb 09 |  Country profiles
Shakespeare play staged in Kabul
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