American photographer Steve McCurry on Thursday urged the international community to speak out against the arrest of Sharbat Gula in Pakistan for allegedly forging a Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) and living illegally in the country.
Gula is the green-eyed "Afghan Girl" McCurry photographed in 1984 for the cover of National Geographic magazine when she was 12 years old. On October 26, she was arrested by Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for using false identification documents to live in the country. If Gula was held guilty, she could face up to 14 years in prison.
"We are doing everything we can to get the facts by contacting our colleagues and friends in the area. I am committed to doing anything and everything possible to provide legal and financial support for her and her family," Steve McCurry said in a post on his official page on Facebook.
"We have made contact with a prominent human rights attorney in Pakistan, who will take her case. We urge the international community to speak out on her behalf and the millions of others who simply need a place to live without fear," McCurry said in another post on the social networking site.
McCurry strongly objected to Gula's arrest and said: "She has suffered throughout her entire life, and her arrest is an egregious violation of her human rights... Sharbat Gula has been the symbol of refugees for decades. Now she has become the face of unwanted migrants. As a widow, she has endeavoured to raise her four children alone. She represents all brave women and men who will endure any pain and hardship to protect the most precious thing they have - their children."
Duniya Khan of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Afghanistan told CNN that the agency would be able to assist Gula only if she is registered as a refugee.
"Sharbat Gula falls under the 'undocumented migrants' umbrella. The UNHCR cannot intervene since she is not a registered refugee," Khan said.
Sharbat Gula gained worldwide fame as the "Afghan Girl" when McCurry took a photograph of hers at the Nasir Bagh refugee camp situated on the edge of Peshawar in 1984. Her photograph was featured on the cover of the June 1985 issue of National Geographic magazine.
McCurry discovered her again 17 years later in 2002 when Gula's family permitted her to meet the man who had photographed her in 1984.
"Her eyes are as haunting now as they were then," McCurry had said when he met her in 2002.