Afghani Sahba Barakzai was used to threats – she had been teaching karate to children in Herat, Afghanistan’s third largest city, for 10 years.
She had also set up a cycling club for teenage and young girls – a very public sport in a country where, less than two decades ago, women were banned from going to school, working or even leaving the house without a male chaperone.
But last Friday, when she was on a mountain hike with her family and seven-month-old husky Aseman, near their home in western Afghanistan, the happy trek turned to tragedy after an unidentified group of men approached the family and shot Sahba’s beloved puppy dead.
The Siberian husky, whose name means “sky”, a nod to her blue eyes, had only joined the family a few months earlier, but was clearly much loved. Pictures show her playing in the snow, cuddling up to children at the club and walking with Sahba in the hills – just like they were on Friday.
About two hours into the hike, a man looking like a shepherd approached the group and shot the dog four times in the chest.
The shots were fatal and a sobbing Sahba took Aseman in her arms and began to run towards the family car.
But the gunman, who had been joined by several other men, fired another shot, and demanded she put the dog down and leave the body with them.
As a woman, he told Sahba, she had no right to keep a dog.
They don’t know who the men were, or why they were targeted. Reporting it to the police, Sahba said, would be pointless.
“I knew nothing will happen,” Sabha said. “Dozens of human beings are killed every day in the country and no one feels responsibility.”
The attack has left the entire family shocked, her sister Setayesh said.
Sabha fears this may have been something more – that it may have been to do with her teaching girls sport.
“We still don’t know about their goal but we think it is because of her career,” Setayesh told the BBC. “She was the first woman who has her own club and these things are taboo.”
“We were really scared. I have never been to such kind of situation before – that was a terrifying memory for all of us.”
But it has left an especially deep wound in Sahba, who decided to shut down her sports clubs – a huge loss for her community – and look into moving across the border, into neighbouring Iran, where she hopes she will be safer. (Source: BBC)