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Return of Taliban law?

July 9, 2012

A young woman in Afghanistan was publicly executed for allegedly committing adultery. The Taliban welcomed the shooting, but due to a wave of outrage, have refused to accept responsibility.

Afghan women traveling with a horse cart
Image: DW/Mukhtar Wafayi

21st century Afghanistan: A young woman is shot before the eyes of villagers. Some people cheer, others watch out of curiosity, but no one protests. The public execution occurred two weeks ago in the northern province of Parwan, barely an hour from the capital, Kabul. The incident was filmed and posted on YouTube last Sunday.

Many Afghans are shocked. They feel like they've been transported back into the mid-1990s when the Taliban ruled the country with a hard hand. It was a time of government-sanctioned death penalties and of public lashings - instruments for "correcting" bad behavior.

An Afghan woman clad in a burqa walks past a graffiti painted wall, in Herat
Afghan women are often alone in the fight for human and civil rightsImage: dapd

"I am shocked as a human being and a woman," says Somaya Ramesch, a mother of two children in Herat. "And I do not understand why there are no mass protests against this kind of inhumanity. I fear for the future of women in this country."

Shock and outrage

Ten years after the fall of the Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamists are strong enough to impose their own laws, says 23-year-old Shiwan Seddiqi, who lives in the southwestern province of Nimroz. She, too, is worried about women and their rights. "The Taliban are trying to present women as being without morals. They shoot a woman because she allegedly commits adultery. What right do they have to do that?" she said. "The aim of the holy warriors is clear," she says. "The Taliban want women to lock themselves in at home and rob them of their rights."

Mustafa, who lives in the northern province of Balkh, is also appalled. "I feel terrible. Things like this must not happen. The days when the Taliban could just torment and murder people as they pleased should be gone forever."

Sadistic woman-haters

Afghan human rights organizations and women's groups have condemned the execution in Parwan and accuse the Taliban of being "sadistic women-haters." Asila Wardak, from the Afghan Women's Network, denounced the "outrageous discrimination" of women under Taliban laws.

"According to Taliban logic, adultery is an immoral act that must be punished by death. But it takes at least two people to commit adultery. In Parwan, why was the woman the only one to be punished?"

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks to lawmakers in parliament
Rights activists have called on President Karzai to investigateImage: AP

Why the execution in Parwan was public has not been clarified. Members of the local authorities told DW that, according to their information, the Taliban were responsible for the incident. The remote village has been known for some time as gathering place for different Taliban groups. High-ranking Taliban are supposed to have had sexual relations with the 22-year-old woman and her execution was supposed to prevent the reputations of certain Taliban chieftains from being besmirched. For its part, the Taliban welcomed the execution, but denied any involvement.

Calls for an investigation

Fauzia Kofi, a member of the Afghan parliament and a well known women's rights activist in Kabul, said that, according to her information from conversations with the authorities and residents of the village, the Taliban had clearly planned and carried out the execution.

"The Taliban never want to accept responsibility when their atrocities cause outrage across the country," she said.

Fauzia Kofi, Afghan women's rights activist
Violence against women must be taken seriously, says Fauzia KofiImage: DW

Kofi has called on the government to investigate the "crime of Parwan."

"I demand from President Hamid Karzai that he finally take the growing violence against women seriously and that he personally pursue the arrest of the perpetrators from Parwan. The president must take a stand."

The Afghan government has condemned the execution, calling it "an inhumane cruelty of the Taliban." Seddig Siddiqi, spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry, told DW that the authorities would do everything in their power to catch the murderers of the young woman. When asked whether those who had cheered at the execution would also be brought to justice, Seddiqi gave no clear answer, and simply said, "The authorities have been told to solve every detail of the case." He was not authorized to say more at this time, he added.

Author: Ratbil Shamel /gb
Editor: Sarah Berning