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July 31, 2012 12:00:00 AM
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A Pakistani judge on Tuesday separated a runaway Afghan couple who married for love after a disabled man appeared in court purporting to be the woman's first husband.

It was an about turn for the judge, who last week appeared to accept that Mariyam and Hewad married legitimately by ordering that they be protected and given accommodation together in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar.

Mariyam and Hewad, both 22, said they fled Kabul last month to wed in the leafy town of Abbottabad in northwest Pakistan, where US troops found and killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

The woman said her parents wanted her to marry her dead sister's husband and that if she is sent back to Afghanistan she would probably be murdered for marrying someone of her own choice.

On Tuesday, her mother and brother appeared in court with the 48-year-old man in a wheel chair claiming he was her real husband.

Her mother Raazia, 65, told AFP that Mariyam had consented to the match and married him six and a half years ago. Two years later, the man had a stroke and has been left partially paralysed, she said.

"The court should hand over the girl to us, we will not kill her," Raazia said.

Judge Dost Muhammad Khan referred the matter to a family court, ordering Mariyam into a women's shelter and sending Hewad for questioning.

The case should be decided "within 40 days", said Khan, who intervened personally after media reports said the woman's life was in danger.

Hewad, who like many Afghans goes by one name, also told AFP last week that he faced serious threats from Mariyam's family.

"I am sure they can harm me here and if we are sent back to Afghanistan, they will simply shoot us," he said.

Despite progress in recent years and improved legal protection, women suffer chronic rights abuses in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Earlier this month a video emerged of the public execution of a woman accused of adultery in Afghanistan, who was shot dead as dozens of men cheered.

Activists fear that women's rights in Afghanistan are under particular threat as NATO troops prepare to leave in 2014 and Kabul seeks peace with the Taliban, who brutally repressed women during their 1996-2001 rule.


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