It only took 80 seconds for two men to rain down 40 lashes on the woman huddled on her knees as a large crowd looked on. The video of the brutal sentence carried out on an Afghan woman was filmed near Herat and posted on Facebook on April 13. It is a painful reminder of the continued operation of Taliban “courts”, even though they have been banned. For our Observer, it also symbolises the failure of the Afghan government.
According to our Observers, this footage is from late 2020, though it hasn’t been possible to determine the precise date the incident occurred. This date range was confirmed by the governor of Herat on April 15. The video was first posted online on April 13, sparking widespread shock and outrage. The incident took place in Haftgola located near Herat in the Obe district.
A man with a white beard leads the woman, who is covered by a burqa, into the center of a circle formed by local men who are there to witness the punishment being carried out. One of the Taliban “judges” led the victim into the center of a group of men.
After leading the victim into the centre of the circle of spectators, the man with the white beard joins three other men in the circle. They are the “elders”, the self-proclaimed judges who delivered the woman’s sentence.
The victim is forced to kneel and a man starts to whip her. After a while, another man takes over. In between the victim’s cries of pain, you can hear her saying, “I repent … it’s my fault … I messed up.”
According to our Observers, this young woman was accused of “immoral relations” because she spoke on the phone with a young man. The man was also arrested and is being held in a Taliban prison.
The Taliban court meets three times a week in the district of Obe, on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. They deal with complaints filed by locals. Our Observers say that this system exists nearly everywhere in Afghanistan. Sometimes videos of the punishments inflicted by these courts emerge on social media or local media outlets.
Back in 2015, a video emerged on social media showing a woman referred to only as “Rokshana” being stoned, a punishment handed down to her by a Taliban tribunal. The video got international attention.
Other cases also have been reported in Afghan media. In September 2015, a Taliban tribunal in Sarpol province called for the stoning of a man and woman accused of adultery. Around the same time, another man and woman were shot to death over similar accusations in Ghor. In September 2020, a woman was killed in Sarpol.
“We are afraid to return to the dark days of the Taliban government”
Atefa Ghafouri is a women’s rights activist in Herat.
All of the men who attended the whipping were ordinary citizens, just people who live in the area. Lots of Afghans, especially those in rural regions, support these tribunals. In many parts of Afghanistan, the government has zero presence. There is no court where you can go and file a complaint. And even when there is some kind of court, the judicial proceedings are long and expensive, because you have to pay bribes so that someone actually works on your file.
So, unfortunately, the only alternative is a Taliban court, which also happens to be rapid and free. People turn to these tribunals and find solutions for their conflicts and that builds legitimacy. The Taliban then impose their rules. The first victims of this system are women.
Moreover, the Afghan government’s inaction makes these tribunals even more powerful. The men who officiate over these so-called trials feel untouchable. And they are. The authorities have never arrested or even questioned anyone in connection to these tribunals. It’s as if it is totally accepted. As if the government divided the country in two. One part that the government controls and another where the Taliban are in charge, with their own rules.
I asked the government why they aren’t going after these people. Even in the cases that get the most media attention, like the killing of a woman named Farkhonda, none of the people who murdered her went to prison. [Editor’s note: Farkhonda was wrongly accused of burning a copy of the Koran and was killed, then her body was burned].
“With a government that includes members of the Taliban, what will happen to us?”
After 20 years of foreign intervention in Afghanistan and billions of dollars spent, the situation has only gotten worse for women. Especially when we look at these so-called negotiations between the United States, the Afghan government and the Taliban [Editor’s note: The first discussions took place in September 2019. The next session is scheduled to start in Turkey in mid-May.
We women are afraid that the Afghan government is going to sell our rights to the Taliban in order to sign a peace agreement. With a government that includes members of the Taliban, what will happen to us? We are afraid of returning to the dark days of the 1990s under the Taliban government. The extremists are constantly gaining ground. For example, they put posters in the street that instruct women to wear hijabs.
The Taliban claim to have changed their position on women’s rights. But how can we believe them when we see them organise these tribunals with these kinds of punishments literally every day, all over the country? When they continue to assassinate women police officers, journalists and activists?
The US army has spent nearly 20 years in Afghanistan and has poured almost one trillion of dollars into the conflict.
There are no statistics about the number of women subject to rulings by these tribunals. Afghanistan is considered one of the worst countries in the world for women’s rights.
First published here on France24.