Mon, Nov 10, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Afghan beauty may face prosecution


Vida Samadzai, 23, appears in the Miss Earth beauty contest in this file photo.


A 23-year-old woman who is the first Afghan in three decades to take part in a beauty pageant could face prosecution if she returns to her home country, a senior justice official said on Saturday.

Vida Samadzai, a candidate in yesterday's Miss Earth final in the Philippines, has said she entered the contest to raise awareness of the plight of women in the homeland she left eight years ago for the US.

But Fazel Ahmad Manawi, deputy head of Afghanistan's Supreme Court, said that Samadzai had betrayed Afghan culture and potentially broken the law.

"I hope that this lady regrets her actions," Manawi said. He added that Afghan prosecutors may open an investigation, but refused to say what charges or penalty Samadzai could face.

Attempts to reach Samadzai in the Philippines were unsuccessful. Organizers of the Miss Earth pageant said initially that contestants were busy with rehearsals for yesterday's final judging.

Afghan law is based on Islamic principles, but stops short of the extremist interpretation of Islamic law which was applied by the former Taliban regime.

Despite the fall of the Taliban two years ago, many Afghan women still wear the all-covering burka robes that became an international symbol of the regime's hardline policies. Those who avoid the burka still respect Islamic tradition by covering their hair with a scarf.

In a radical departure from the traditional image of Afghan women, Samadzai paraded down a catwalk in a red bikini during the Miss Earth qualification last month, leading to criticism from the Afghan Supreme Court, which said such a display of the female body was un-Islamic. Samadzai later said she felt uncomfortable in skimpy attire but that the bathing suit contest was a necessary part of the competition.

Samadzai, who studies at California State University, Fullerton, left Afghanistan in 1996. It was not immediately clear whether she has any remaining family in the country.

She said she was "appointed" as a contestant by people aware of her work as a fund-raiser.

Samadzai's participation in the Miss Earth pageant has received little publicity in Afghanistan, where most of the impoverished population lacks access to outside media.

Several Afghan women approached on the streets of Kabul refused to speak when asked about Samadzai. In Afghan culture, women are usually wary of speaking to men in public.

However, in an office in the city, female employee Mazari Alamyar also criticized Samadzai.

"Every [Afghan] woman who is living in any country should respect Shariah [Islamic] law. We are Afghans, we are Muslims," she said. "We know that what was done by this woman was against Shariah law and we condemn it."

Najeba Sharief, Afghanistan's deputy minister for women's affairs, said she personally was displeased with Samadzai.

It is "too early" for beauty pageants when the majority of Afghan women face a tough daily struggle to survive, she said. "First, we should take other steps and after that, one day, we'll be able to turn to such activities."

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