A Pakistani judge on Friday ruled that Sharbat Gula, the woman made famous on the cover of a 1985 issue of National Geographic magazine, will be deported from the country, The Los Angeles Times reported. Gula was arrested late last month on charges that she had obtained forged Pakistani identification papers. She faced a maximum prison term of 14 years under Pakistan’s corruption laws along with a fine ranging from $3,000 to $5,000. The judge also ordered her to serve 15 days in jail and pay a $1,000 fine.
After the ruling, Gula’s attorney, Mubashir Nazer, told reporters gathered outside the courthouse in Peshawar that because Gula has already served 11 days, she’ll be released and sent back to Afghanistan on Monday. Gula in recent days had been hospitalized after suffering a bout of hepatitis C, the same ailment that took the lives of her husband and daughter. She received treatment and had her blood monitored while at the hospital, according to a report by The Los Angeles Times. “She is looking healthy and relaxed,” Zulfiqar Babakhel, a hospital spokesperson, said before the court hearing. Babakhel also said the Pakistani government paid for her treatment.
But getting an actual look at Gula, whose piercing green eyes propelled her to global recognition, was no easy task. She was escorted into court by a throng of police officers and was wearing a full burka, which obscured her famous striking eyes.
Afghan consulate official Abdul Hameed Jalili praised the news that Gula will be headed back to her native land. “The government and the people of Afghanistan await Sharbat Gula with great emotion, and will welcome her very warmly,” Jalili said, according to Reuters.
But not everyone hailed the ruling. Amnesty International denounced the judge’s decision as a “grave injustice” in a statement posted on the group’s website. “For decades, she was known as the world’s most famous refugee and seen as a symbol of Pakistan’s status as a generous host. Now, by sending her back to a country she hasn’t seen in a generation and her children have never known, her plight has become emblematic of Pakistan’s cruel treatment of Afghan refugees.”
Steve McCurry, the photographer who in 1984 captured the image of Gula the world came to know, has followed her case closely and said he’s sent her funds to help get on her feet after the ordeal is over. In a post on his Facebook page on Friday, McCurry praised the outcome and said that Gula would be greeted “by President Ashraf Ghani upon her arrival to welcome her back home and help her with her resettlement” when she returns to Afghanistan. Gula has lived most of her life, apart from a short-lived return to Afghanistan, in Pakistan. She fled with many other refugees in the 1980s as Russia and Afghanistan were locked in a bitter war. Though her face was recognized globally — she came to be known as the world’s most famous refugee and the “Mona Lisa of the Afghan War” — her identity was unknown until 2002.