The man she calls her husband, Rahmatullah (they were never legally married), was convicted along with her son, her brother-in-law, an uncle and a nephew for their role in the murders and robberies of 27 Afghan men in 2001 to 2004. Afghan prosecutors said Ms. Gul was the ringleader.
Working as a prostitute, Ms. Gul brought home her customers, many of them taxi drivers, and served them drugged kebabs, after which her family members robbed, killed and then buried them in the yards of two family homes.
All six were sentenced to death, and the five men were hanged. Ms. Gul, however, got pregnant while on death row, so her own hanging was delayed. After she gave birth to Meena, her sentence was commuted to life in prison by the president at the time, Hamid Karzai, according to Lt. Col. Mohammad Asif, the head of the women’s cellblock here.
Ms. Gul first claimed that she had never confessed to the crimes, then said she had been tortured into confessing to them. Frustrated, she made clawing gestures across a table and hissed, “I’ll kill you. I’m going to come over there and take out your eyes.”
Meena touched her lightly on the shoulder to try to calm her down, put a forefinger to her lips and said, “Shh.” Her mother subsided, briefly.
The girl was still holding the yellow plastic bag; inside was a bundle wrapped in a carefully folded red and white kitchen towel.
“What’s in there, Meena?” I asked.
“Pictures of my father.”
She proudly unwrapped them to show them off. Meena and her mother rarely get visits, and never from family members or friends, all of whom are either dead or estranged. Part of the reason Meena is still behind bars is that she has no surviving relatives who would take her, even if her mother allowed it.
Or as Ms. Gul explained it: “I have many enemies. I wouldn’t trust anyone to take Meena outside.”
The photos were of Rahmatullah, whom Meena calls her father: portraits, snapshots on holiday, pictures of him with Ms. Gul.
Rahmatullah (who like many Afghans had only one name) was also convicted of killing Ms. Gul’s legal husband, a police colonel, when Ms. Gul and Rahmatullah were having an affair. The colonel’s body was among those found buried in the yards of the family homes in 2004. Rahmatullah was also a convicted pedophile and thief and reputedly a former Taliban commander.
What he almost certainly was not, however, was Meena’s biological father; the dates do not fit. He was already in jail when he implicated Ms. Gul in the murders, and they were in different prisons in different cities at the time of Meena’s conception. Afghan officials said that an unknown prison officer was Meena’s birth father, and officials accused Ms. Gul of deliberately getting pregnant to avoid the gallows.
Meena went through the photographs one after another, lingering over some, including two of Rahmatullah dead, after his hanging, in a burial shroud but with his face visible; it was not a pretty sight.
In a 2015 interview with The New York Times, Ms. Gul admitted that she and Rahmatullah had killed her husband together.