By Zahra Nader
In late July, Mahjabin Hakimi received some good news: her special immigrant visa for the United States was finally being processed. The 25-year-old, who was an officer in Afghanistan’s special forces and a professional volleyball player, was excited to begin a new life.
But Mahjabin never made it to America. Several weeks later, she was dead.
The circumstances of her death have become the focus of intense media scrutiny and whirling rumours in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Her parents’ quest to find out what happened to their daughter in her final hours is mired in the fog of the Afghan state’s collapse, underscoring the ever-worsening situation for women and girls in Afghanistan. Now they fear they will never find justice.
According to local news reports citing the coach of the Kabul city volleyball team, the Taliban beheaded the young woman — even though Mahjabin died on August 6, nine days before the Taliban took over Kabul. A prominent Afghan woman police officer shared photos on Twitter allegedly showing Mahjabin’s slit neck, leading to a flurry of reports in international media including NBC News, The New York Post and The Times of India.
A relative of Mahjabin’s fiancé said she hung herself. But the Hakimis suspect they are lying: her fiancé, Majeed was immediately arrested by police when her body was discovered, but later released.
On the morning of Friday, August 6, Mahjabin’s friend Taiba Sahar went to visit her in her home in Kabul, where she lived with her future in-laws. Sahar took along a friend, and the two women were led to Mahjabin’s bedroom by her fiancé’s sister. Sahar had visited Mahjabin at least three times in the past few months, and the bedroom now appeared unusually tidy.
While the two young women were waiting, they heard the fiance’s mother scream. They followed the scream to the bathroom, where they saw Mahjabin’s body. “With a green scarf tightly knotted around her neck, Mahjabin was hanging from the window ledge,” Sahar recalled in a phone interview. “There were wounds around her neck and under her chin that were not consistent with injuries from [hanging by a scarf]”, Sahar said from the Fort McCoy military camp in Wisconsin, where she awaits processing after being evacuated from Kabul in late August.
For the 23-year-old Sahar who worked as a policewoman at the Kabul headquarters, things didn’t add up. If she had hung herself, the body would not have looked so undisturbed. “There was no sign of struggle as if she seemed not to have moved her hands or feet,” she said. Sahar was particularly unsettled by the request from a relative of Majeed who asked her to lie to the police about what she saw.
“He told me to say that we saw her walk into the bathroom alive before we found her dead,” Sahar recalled.
The police arrested her fiancé, but later they released him on bail, according to the relative, who asked that his relationship to the family not be described out of fear of retribution. A former police officer who worked at the district where Mahjabin lived, told Rukhshana Media on condition of anonymity that the result of their investigation was destroyed in transition as the Taliban returned to power in mid-August.
For the Hakimis, who lost another daughter to suicide, Mahjabin’s death — and the lack of clarity surrounding it — is tormenting. “I want to know what happened to my daughter. Even if it was suicide, I want to know the reason,” said Sarwar Hakimi, her father.
When they were told by one of Majeed’s relatives that Mahjabin was in the hospital, the couple rushed to Kabul from their native Ghazni province, some 300 kilometers to the southwest of the capital. In Kabul, they discovered that she was dead and that her body had been sent to a forensics center.
The 51-year-old martial arts teacher taught his daughter karate from a young age, and the two were close. Photos and videos shared by her father with Rukhshana Media show a young woman visibly full of life. In one, her father is holding Mahjabin in his arms. Both are smiling to the camera, their hair is windswept.
“They said my daughter hanged herself from a window 4-feet high. But she was 5 foot 3, so how does that work?”
Sahar also threw doubt on the suggestion of suicide, describing Mahjabin as a happy and positive person. Ever since the pair met six years ago in Turkey on a training course for the security forces, Mahjabin regretted the suffering her sister’s suicide caused her parents. Sahar said it was “unthinkable” that Mahjabin would do the same.
Relatives of both Mahjabin and Majeed said the couple had difficulties, centered around his opposition to her work.
“I talked to her on Thursday, a day before [she died]. She told me that her visa for the U.S. was in progress, but her fiancé refused to go with her,” said Mahjabin’s mother, 50-year-old Aqela, who only goes by her first name. A year earlier, Majeed forced Mahjabin to give up her job in the special forces, said family members and friends.
Majeed could not be reached despite several attempts by Rukhshana Media to contact him.
A week before her death, Mahjabin told Sahar she was longing to return to work. “She asked me to find her a vacant post,” Sahar said. “She said she will convince her fiancé.”
A relative of Majeed, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was a lot of tension in the relationship surrounding her desire to keep working. “He told her, ‘if you want to live with me, leave the special forces’”, the relative quoted Majeed as saying.
“But the reality is this,” he continued. “Mahjabin committed suicide.” He was present when her body was found in the bathroom.
For Mahjabin’s parents, their daughter’s death and subsequent mystery surrounding it mean they now fear for their lives. “We already felt threatened by the Taliban because of Mahjabin’s work with the Afghan special forces,” Sarwar said. “But the lie that has been reported in the media that the Taliban beheaded her puts us further in danger.”