A video has emerged of what appears to be a young Afghan woman, married against her will, stoned to death for trying to elope with another man.
In a graphic, 30-second video, which has not been verified, a group of men are hurling stones at what seems to be a woman reciting the from a neck-deep pit.
A group of people are watching the stoning as the men throw rocks with increasing speed, without betraying any visible emotion. The video cuts before the woman is killed.
The incident occurred in Ghalmeen, a village outside the capital of the central Afghan province of Ghor, which is under the control of armed opposition groups, according to the provincial governor, Seema Joyenda.
The woman, as Rokhshana, 19, was stoned last week, accused of adultery with a man much younger than the person she was forcibly married to.
According to Joyenda, who has staff members from the village, Rokhshana first ran away several years ago to Iran after her family tried to marry her off to an old man. After they brought her back, they forcibly married her off to another old man. When she ran away this time, she did so as a married woman, and was punished with stoning, Joyenda said.
Local officials, including the police chief and the head of Ghor’s department for women’s affairs, Masooma Anwari, have blamed the Taliban for the killing, claiming that the sentence was decided in a court.
However, activists in Kabul warned against jumping to conclusions. Wazhma Frogh, co-founder of the Research Institute for Women, Peace and Security, said her contacts in Ghor had told her the perpetrators were not Taliban but rather local tribal leaders.
She said that while she did not mean to exonerate the Taliban of their atrocities, local officials were known to blame the insurgents when they could. “Usually, they are putting it on the Taliban to cover up their own kind. Of course the Taliban do these things, but we can’t deny that tribal leaders also do the same things,” she said.
Joyenda condemned the stoning but was ambiguous in assigning blame. The culprits, she said, were armed groups, without specifying who they were.
Meanwhile, though Joyenda is one of only two female governors in Afghanistan, she has herself been criticised for allowing local authorities to trample on women’s rights. In September, she defended a sentence sanctioned by government judges to “Their punishment is based on sharia law and will teach others a lesson,” a spokesman for the governor told Reuters.
The ambiguity about who stoned Rokhshana perhaps reflects the fact that the Taliban is not a homogenous group. The name is used to label everything from armed fighters to sympathetic clerics and elders.
To many Afghans, public lashings and stonings are an appalling echo of the times during Taliban rule when the fundamentalist movement would routinely mete out corporal punishment for so-called moral crimes. It is also sign of the government lack of clout in many rural communities in which clerics and tribal leaders uphold fundamentalist values.
Activists and western organisations have long criticised the Afghan government for not doing enough to improve the legal protection of women.
While stoning is officially banned, as late as in 2013, under the previous president, Hamid Karzai, the government had to back down from a proposal to reintroduce the punishment, after the suggestion was leaked and triggered an international outcry.
Last year’s election of Ashraf Ghani as president has brought little hope of improvement. Earlier this year, a many of the initial hard sentences given to those behind the mob murder of Farkhunda, a female religious teacher, in Kabul.
Over the summer, women’s rights activists have also been subjected to increased pressure from the armed opposition. Following the Taliban’s three-week siege of the northern city of Kunduz, the rebels went door-to-door hunting for female activists, who swiftly fled, including proprietors of women’s shelters, and female radio reporters and officials.