Sharbat Gula, the Afghan woman who captivated the world's attention when she appeared on an iconic cover of National Geographic magazine in June 1985, has been denied bail by a Pakistani court Tuesday and was transferred to a local hospital.
Sharbat Gula was admitted to Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, and has hepatitis C, Mohsin Dawar, an attorney working on her case told National Geographic. He said he did not know if the hepatitis prompted her immediate hospitalization. Sharbat Gula's husband died of hepatitis several years ago, the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal, wrote on his Facebook page.
Sharbat Gula has been jailed in Peshawar in northern Pakistan since last week and is charged with living in Pakistan with a fraudulent national ID card. If convicted she could face up to 14 years in prison. (Read more about her case.)
"The arrest of Sharbat Gula, one of the world’s most recognized and Afghanistan’s most beloved images, had already hurt feelings of all Afghans, and today’s ruling was a further disregard to those feelings and the bilateral people-to-people relations," Zakhilwal wrote.
Setting her free "would certainly be the right things to do," the ambassador added.
Further, the ID she had "was neither fake, nor obtained fraudulently," he wrote. "NADRA [Pakistan's National Database Registration Authority] had issued the ID to her and her late husband as per its normal process years ago."
Sharbat Gula's lawyers tried unsuccessfully to gain her release on bail Tuesday and Wednesday. Dawar said he was baffled by the court's refusal to release her, especially after Pakistan's interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, said Sunday that the government would view the case "from a humanitarian angle."
Pakistani officials have said the IDs are not to be issued to foreign nationals (Sharbat Gula is an Afghani citizen who fled war in the country in the 1980s). Three local officials have been fired in Peshawar under suspicion of issuing IDs improperly to Afghanis, and are currently under investigation.
"As a widow, [Sharbat Gula] has endeavored to raise her four [remaining] children alone," photographer Steve McCurry wrote on his Instagram account Wednesday. McCurry first photographed Sharbat Gula in a refugee camp in Pakistan in December 1984, and then found her again in 2002.
"She represents all brave women and men who will endure any pain and hardship to protect the most precious thing they have—their children," McCurry wrote.
"Sharbat Gula has been the symbol of refugees for decades," he added. "Now she has become the face of unwanted migrants."
Ambassador Zakhilwal is urging Pakistan's prime minister to intervene on Sharbat Gula's behalf. "Immediately after her release the Afghan government is ready to facilitate Sharbat Gula as well as her children’s repatriation back to Afghanistan with dignity, and support her to resettle in her own country," Zakhilwal added.
In fact, Sharbat Gula had recently sold her modest house in Peshawar and was planning on returning to Afghanistan anyway, Zakhilwal wrote.
"The National Geographic Society expresses its support for Mrs. Sharbat Gula and encourages the Pakistani authorities to release her on humanitarian grounds," Emma Carrasco, a spokeswoman for the National Geographic Society, said in a statement. "She has lived a life beset by many challenges and much tragedy.