Taliban stone couple to death
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KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Taliban on Sunday ordered their first public executions by stoning since their fall from power nine years ago, killing a young couple who had eloped, according to Afghan officials and a witness.
The punishment was carried out by hundreds of the victims' neighbors in a village in northern Kunduz province, according to Nadir Khan, 40, a local farmer and Taliban sympathizer, who was interviewed by phone. Even family members were involved, both in the stoning and in tricking the couple into returning after they had fled.
Mr. Khan said that as a Taliban mullah prepared to read the judgment of a religious court, the lovers, a 25-year-old man named Khayyam and a 19-year-old woman named Siddiqa, defiantly confessed in public to their relationship. "They said, 'We love each other no matter what happens,' " Mr. Khan said.
The executions were the latest in a series of cases where the Taliban have imposed their harsh version of Shariah law for social crimes, as they had during their decade of ruling the country. In recent years, Taliban officials have sought to play down their bloody punishments of the past, concentrating on building up popular support.
"We see it as a sign of a new confidence on the part of the Taliban in the application of their rules, like they did in the '90s," said Ahmad Nader Nadery, a senior commissioner on the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. "We do see it as a trend. They're showing more strength in recent months -- not just in attacks, but including their own way of implementing laws, arbitrary and extrajudicial killings."
The stoning deaths, along with similarly brazen attacks in northern Afghanistan, also were a sign of growing Taliban strength in parts of the country where, until recently, they had been weak or absent.
In their home regions in southern Afghanistan, Mr. Nadery said, the Taliban have already been cracking down. "We've seen a big increase in intimidation of women and more strict rules on women," he said.
Perhaps most worrisome were signs of support for the action from Afghan mainstream religious authorities. Mawlawi Abdul Yaqub, head of the Kunduz provincial Ulema Council, said in a phone interview Monday that stoning to death was the appropriate punishment for an illegal sexual relationship, although he declined to give his view on this case. An Ulema Council is a body of Islamic clerics with religious authority in a region.
And less than a week earlier, the national Ulema Council brought together 350 religious scholars in a meeting with government religious officials, who issued a joint statement Aug. 10 calling for more punishment under Shariah law -- apparently referring to stoning, amputations and lashings. Failure to carry out such "Islamic provisions," the council statement said, was hindering the peace process and encouraging crime.
The controversy could have implications for efforts by Afghan officials to reconcile with Taliban leaders and draw them into power-sharing talks. Afghan officials, supported by Western countries, have insisted that Taliban leaders would have to accept the Afghan Constitution, which guarantees women's rights, and not expect a return to Shariah law.
The couple eloped when the man was unable to persuade family members to allow him to marry the young woman. She was engaged to marry a relative of her lover but was unwilling to do so, according to Mr. Khan.
The couple eloped to Kunar province, in eastern Afghanistan, staying with distant relatives. But family members persuaded them to return to their village, promising to allow them to marry. (Afghan men are legally allowed to marry as many as four wives.) Once back in Kunduz, however, they were seized by the Taliban, who convened local mullahs from surrounding villages for a religious court.
The stoning deaths were confirmed by Afghan officials in the area Monday. Mahbubullah Sayedi, spokesman for the Kunduz governor's office, condemned the executions and said there was ample provision in Afghan law for prosecuting someone accused of adultery or other social crimes. "We have courts here, and we can solve such cases through our judicial organizations," he said. "This act is against human rights and against our national Constitution."
Mohammed Ayub, governor of nearby Imam Sahib district, also confirmed the stonings in the local bazaar of Mullah Quli village in Archi district, a remote corner of Kunduz province close to Tajikistan.
After the Taliban proclaimed the sentence, Ms. Siddiqa, dressed in the head-to-toe Afghan burqa, and Mr. Khayyam, who had a wife and two young children, were encircled by the male-only crowd in the bazaar. Taliban activists began stoning them first, then villagers joined in until they killed first Ms. Siddiqa and then Mr. Khayyam, Mr. Khan said. No women were allowed to attend, he said.
Mr. Khan estimated that about 200 villagers participated in the executions, including Mr. Khayyam's father and brother, and Ms. Siddiqa's brother, as well as other relatives, with a larger crowd of onlookers who did not take part. "People were very happy seeing this," he maintained, saying the crowd was festive and cheered during the stoning. The couple, he said, "did a bad thing."
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid praised the action. "We have heard about this report and are trying to get information from our friends in Kunduz about the stoning," he said by cell phone. "But let me tell you that according to Shariah law, if someone commits a crime like that, we have our courts, and we deal with such crimes based on Islamic law."
Mr. Nadery, from the human rights commission, pointed to a string of recent such cases of summary justice by the Taliban.
Amnesty International condemned the latest stonings, calling them the first such executions since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. "The Taliban and other insurgent groups are growing increasingly brutal in their abuses against Afghans," said Amnesty International official Sam Zarifi.
First Published August 17, 2010 12:00 am