Islamabad: A Pakistani court today denied bail to an Afghan woman who was immortalised on the cover of National Geographic magazine in the 1980s and arrested last week on fraud charges, days after the Interior Minister indicated she may soon be released on humanitarian grounds.
Sharbat Gula, who attained fame on the cover of an issue of the National Geographic magazine, has been in police custody since October 26 for allegedly having obtained fake identity papers to stay in Pakistan as a refugee.
The special court in Peshawar had reserved its verdict a day earlier and today rejected her bail application citing a lack of evidence to prove her Pakistani citizenship.
The green-eyed Gula was arrested from her Peshawar residence for alleged forgery of a Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC).
During the bail hearing yesterday, Gula’s lawyer had told the court that his client is the sole bread earner of her family and is suffering from Hepatitis C.
Earlier in the week, Gula was sent to prison on judicial remand by a local court. She faces up to 14 years in jail. Her arrest highlighted the plight of millions of Afghan refugees staying in Pakistan.
For decades, Pakistan has provided safe haven for millions of Afghan refugees who fled their country after the Soviet invasion of 1979. It hosts more than 1 million registered Afghan refugees, according to United Nations Refugee Agency.
The agency also estimates a further one million unregistered refugees staying in the country.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had on Sunday indicated that Gula may be released on humanitarian grounds. Khan had said Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) should arrange bail for her as soon as possible.
Gula’s haunting photo, taken in a refugee camp in Pakistan in 1984 by Steve McCurry, was one of Nat Geo’s most famous covers.
She surfaced in Pakistan in 2014, but had gone into hiding after authorities accused her of buying a fake Pakistani identity card.