An Afghan woman, whose portrait became one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century, has been arrested in Pakistan following allegations she is in the country illegally.
Reporter: James Brookes | Sub-Editor: Yasmin Jeffery
Sharbat Gula appeared on the cover of the June 1985 issue of National Geographic magazine after Steve McCurry photographed her in a Pakistani refugee camp. The resulting image – with her piercing green eyes and tattered headscarf – made Gula an instantly recognisable face and she became a symbol of refugees and unrest in the Middle East.
On Wednesday, officials from Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) raided her home in Peshawar, northern Pakistan, after a photo from Gula’s computerised national identity card was published. According to the country’s law, foreign nationals are ineligible to receive the cards.
Shahid Ilyas, an official with Pakistan’s National Database Registration Authority (NADRA), told The Guardian that, if convicted, Gula could face a $5,000 (£4,100) fine and up to 14 years in prison.
Ilyas also confirmed the FIA was investigating three officers thought to be responsible for issuing the card.
Writing of Gula’s arrest on his Instagram account, McCurry said: “I object to this action by the authorities in the strongest possible terms.
“She has suffered throughout her entire life, and her arrest is an egregious violation of her human rights.”
After a long search, McCurry found Gula in 2002, taking another portrait to show how the adverse environment had made a profound difference to her appearance.
Arshad Yusufzai, a journalist close to Gula, told National Geographic that she is accused of having bribed officials with the equivalent of around $450 (£370) to receive the card. She can be held by police for up to 14 days before a decision is made on whether to prosecute her.
According to Yusufzai, the three NADRA officials have been arrested on bribery charges and are due in court today.
NADRA says 60,675 cards have been fraudulently obtained by foreign nationals, many of whom fled to Pakistan during Afghanistan’s war with the Soviet Union in the 1980s. It is estimated that 2.5 million Afghan refugees are now settled in the country.
With increasing unrest in the region, politicians and some residents have been blaming refugees for crime and terrorism and Pakistan has begun to send many of its refugees away following the United Nations’ pledge to increase its financial assistance to refugees who return to Afghanistan.