RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan has obtained video footage from an eyewitness that appears to show the brutal stoning last week of a 19-year-old Afghan woman in the central province of Ghor.
The two-minute clip shows a group of men throwing stones with increasing intensity at a covered individual crammed in a hole in the ground. A crowd of onlookers are seen capturing the incident on their mobile phones and a woman’s pitiful cries can plainly be heard.
Local official Mohammad Zaman Azimi, in a previous report, blamed Taliban militants for the execution.
Azimi said the woman, identified as 19-year-old Rokhshana, was stoned to death after being accused of having premarital sex with her fiance, a 23-year-old man named Mohammad Gul, who was reportedly lashed.
It was unclear why the young woman would have received a more severe punishment, although Taliban and religious courts in the past have been more lenient toward men.
Azimi added that the stoning took place in the village of Ghalmin on the outskirts of Firoz Koh, the provincial capital.
The couple allegedly had fled their families in a bid to find a place to be married.
Unmarried girls in Afghanistan are often restricted to their homes and banned from having contact with men outside their immediate families.
Brutal punishments often await Afghan women and girls who break the social norm.
Death by stoning for convicted adulterers is banned under Afghan law, although offenders face long prison terms. The penal code, originating in 1976, makes no provision for the use of stoning.
Afghanistan’s Constitution prescribes that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam” and sometimes appears at odds with more liberal and democratic elements within it.
Capital punishment was widely practiced by the Taliban regime, which ruled much of the country from 1996-2001, when convicted adulterers were routinely shot or stoned in executions conducted in front of large crowds.
In rural areas, where Taliban militants exert considerable influence, some Afghans still turn to Taliban courts for settling disputes, as many view government bodies as corrupt or unreliable. The Taliban courts employ strict interpretations of Shari’a law, which prescribes punishments such as stoning and executions.
In many Taliban-controlled areas, men or women found guilty of having a relationship outside marriage or an extramarital affair are sentenced to death, or in other cases publicly flogged.
Afghan officials often blame the Taliban for such punishments.
Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, there have been sporadic reports of stonings.
In 2012, a 22-year-old woman was shot dead for alleged adultery in Parwan Province, just north of the capital, Kabul. Later the same year, a 16-year-old girl in the western city of Herat was flogged and then killed along with her alleged boyfriend.
In 2013, there was a government proposal to reintroduce public stoning as punishment for adultery. But the government backed away from the proposal after international condemnation.
The abandoned legislation had set the punishment for extramarital sex between unmarried individuals at 100 lashes; sex outside marriage was punished by stoning to death if the adulterer or adulteress was married.
Masooma Anwari, the head of women’s affairs in Ghor, expressed grave concern over the situation of women in the province.
She said the “incompetence” of the local authorities in governance and security has paved the way for such incidents.
The stoning is just the most recent in a string of public punishments in Ghor that have sparked outrage.
On August 31, a young man and woman found guilty of adultery were lashed publicly.
Sima Joyenda, Ghor’s embattled female governor, came under criticismfrom rights activists at home and abroad for supporting the sentence. Joyenda, who is under pressure to resign, added that the sentence, which was carried out based on the ruling of a primary court, was in keeping with the law.
“Afghanistan is an Islamic country and Ghor is one of the provinces of Afghanistan, and we cannot disobey what the law of Islam and our constitution says,” Ariana News quoted her as saying last month.
Ghor, a mountainous and remote province in the central highlands, is one of the poorest and most unstable areas in the country.
The provincial government’s power extends little beyond Firoz Koh. Dozens of illegal, armed groups run by former warlords and militia leaders are active in Ghor, a key transit route for arms and drugs, and the resulting clashes are seen to be the source of much of the violence in the province.