France: Afghan sentenced for raping 12-year-old boy; lawyer claims Afghan culture of ‘Bacha Bazi’ helps excuse attack

By John Cody
4 Min Read

A French court sentenced Afghan migrant Mohammed Rahman Arsala to a 15-year prison sentence for the rape of a 12-year-old boy that occurred on Aug. 25, 2018, in Saint-Brieuc. During the sentencing, the convicted man’s lawyer tried to argue that it was an Afghan custom known as Bacha Bazi and that the man should not be held fully responsible for his actions due to common practice of men sexually assaulting young boys in his native homeland.

The prosecutor on the other hand argued that the boy’s life had been ruined due to the sexual assault, which necessitates a harsh sentence.

“We have to think about what the journey of a child victim is like,” explained the Advocate General, Grégory Martin-Dit-Neuville. “He had to tell the police what he’s been through, once, twice, three times. Then to the doctor. He had to take preventive treatments for sexually transmitted diseases. Then, there is the psychological counseling and so on. The child also had to explain the crime to his parents.”

The cultural factor

“He never went back to play in the park again. Childhood, for him, stopped there,” the lawyer of the convicted man, Me Le Goardet-Prigent, said in front of the Assize Court of Côtes-d’Armor on Monday afternoon. The lawyer was referring to the incident on Aug. 25, 2018, when the 12-year-old boy was raped in an abandoned house in the city center of Saint-Brieuc, not far from the Promenades playground where he was heading. Prigent does not deny that it was a heinous crime, but argues that the cultural factors should lead to a reduced sentence. 

“He tells us that if he had been married, this would never have happened because he would have had a wife to satisfy his needs,” claimed Me Le Goardet-Prigent.

Prigent claimed that experts have questioned how dangerous Arsala truly is, and that he never fully seemed to understand that his actions were wrong because he came from the culture of Afghanistan. 

The cultural factor and the practice of “Bacha Bazi” were also raised during the trial, which is common in Afghanistan and consists of making young boys sex slaves.

“Custom is not a law, and yet, we must take into account the cultural element,” defense attorney said. “Because we are all the product of cultural standards, of a story. And he was born a hundred kilometers from Kabul. We don’t know what his story is.”

A disturbing past

But Arsala’s stay in France was marked by worrying signals even before the sexual attack. In April 2018, he invited a young girl to his home and sexually assaulted her.

“I just wanted to learn the language,” Arsala explained. Arsala was also arrested for masturbating in front of a group of girls on a beach. He was also arrested by police for taking photos of girls front of a school, which he claimed he was simply posting on Facebook for innocent reasons. 

He was also transferred from the Saint-Brieuc center to that of Brest because the nurse reported inappropriate behavior. After he was incarcerated in Brest, a fellow prisoner complained about Arsala sexually assaulting him. Arsala offered no explanation in the courtroom for the sexual assault he is accused of conducting in prison.

Arsala has been found guilty of the rape of a minor, and sentenced after two hours of deliberation to 15 years of criminal imprisonment. He will also be definitively banned from entering France again.

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