KABUL, Afghanistan -- A mob attacked an Afghan medical doctor and his female patient, stoning the doctor after the two were discovered in his private examining room without a chaperon, Afghan officials said on Thursday.
There were conflicting accounts that the doctor had been killed or that he had been severely injured and sent out of Afghanistan for treatment. The woman was initially feared missing, but was later reported to be at a women's shelter, according to an official there.
The attack took place in Sar-i-Pul, a government-held town in the northern province of the same name, on Tuesday, but news was slow to leak out and officials initially denied that anyone had been hurt.
The provincial police chief, Abdul Raouf Taj, said that local villagers and shopkeepers stormed the private clinic when they heard that the doctor, Ajmeer Hashimi, was treating a patient, a midwife named Mahboba, alone in his examining room.
In many parts of Afghanistan, particularly in remote areas, women are customarily not allowed to be examined by male doctors except in the presence of close male family members as their chaperons. Stoning is the punishment for adultery under Shariah law, and many Afghan clerics approve of it, although it is officially outlawed here.
"It's always hard for working women to stay in touch with male colleagues because most Afghans see them as sexual relations rather than work relations, and it's all because of old traditions and a low level of education," Chief Taj said.
He said there was no indication that the victims' relationship was anything other than professional in nature.
Nonetheless, a crowd quickly gathered on the street below the doctor's second-floor office after word spread that he was treating a patient alone. The police arrived to escort them out of the office, according to Nabila Rahimi, head of the legal department of the ministry of women's affairs in the province, and were able to protect the woman from serious attack, but not the doctor. Ms. Rahimi said attackers threw Dr. Hashimi off a balcony into the crowd below, and people began stoning him.
A local television station broadcast the attack, according to residents.
Chief Taj said the doctor was eventually rescued and taken to the Balkh General Hospital in Mazar-i-Sharif. However, officials at that hospital said they had been told by the police that the doctor had been killed and the midwife was missing. One said that the police had ordered hospital officials to lie and to say that both victims were at their hospital under treatment. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution for violating those orders.
The victims, who were both married, but not to each other, were employed at the Sar-i-Pul provincial hospital. Dr. Hashimi also where he saw patients. Mahboba, the midwife, is the mother of two children, ages 5 and 6; like many Afghans, she has only one name.
An official at the women's shelter where Mahboba was taken, the location of which is being withheld for her safety, said Mahboba was in good condition.
That official said she had been told that the doctor had survived the attack but was critically injured and had been taken to India for treatment.
In unrelated news in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, in a Taliban-infested area of Helmand Province, six Afghan policemen were killed apparently by an infiltrator working for the insurgents, who claimed responsibility.
The authorities in the Musa Qala district discovered early Thursday morning that four Afghan Local Police officers and two National Police officers, stationed at the same checkpost, had been killed and their police pickup truck taken away, said Omar Zawak, the spokesman for the provincial governor. He called it "heartbreaking news."
A spokesman for the Taliban, Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, reached by telephone, said the insurgents had infiltrated that police post with someone who turned on the other officers.
Sharifullah Sahak contributed reporting.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.