KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban on Sunday (August 15th) 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 telephone. 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, reminiscent of their behavior during their decade of ruling the country. In recent years, Taliban officials have sought to play down their bloody punishments of the past, as they concentrated 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 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, were also 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 mainstream religious authorities in Afghanistan. The head of the Ulema Council in Kunduz Province, Mawlawi Abdul Yaqub, interviewed by telephone, said Monday that stoning to death was the appropriate punishment for an illegal sexual relationship, although he declined to give his view on this particular 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 on Aug. 10 calling for more punishment under Shariah law, apparently referring to stoning, amputations and lashings.