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Stoned to Death for Love

Taliban orders first public execution since 2001

After the Taliban ordered the public stoning of a couple in Afghanistan, the international community has called all bets off and pushed for change. Political and religious tensions are at an all-time high surrounding the Islamic community, leaving onlookers to express their opinions and criticisms very carefully.

In August, Abdul Khayyam, 25, and a woman identified as Siddiqa, 19, were sentenced to a stoning death after the Council of Ulema – Afghanistan’s highest Islamic religious body – encouraged the enforcement of the strict Sharia law to punish social crimes. The couple’s “social crime” was their public declaration of love and choice to elope, despite disapproving attitudes from their family members, reported Amnesty International. Adding to their crimes, Siddiqa was engaged to another man, and Khayyam had a wife and two young children (although it is legal for an Afghan man to have up to four wives).

The couple was persuaded by their own families to return to their native district of Kunduz under the false pretense that their union would be approved, according to Amnesty. However, they were seized by the Taliban and put before a religious court. The sentence was the first public execution by the Taliban since their fall nine years ago, the New York Times reported.

The couple stood in a field with their hands tied behind their backs as their own neighbors aided in their death, according to the New York Daily News. The New York Times adds that the crowd of 200 men who participated in the executions included relatives of the couple, Khayyam’s father and brother, and Siddiqa’s brother. The head-to-toe burqa worn by Siddiqa during the execution has also recently been under international criticism, alongside the stoning sentences.

“This act is against human rights and against our national Constitution,” said Mahbubullah Sayedi, a spokesman for the Khunduz government, for the New York Times. “We have courts here, and we can solve such cases through our judicial organizations.”

Afghan officials, with support from Western countries, have insisted that Taliban leaders accept the Afghan Constitution, which guarantees women’s rights.

In spite of this, the Los Angeles Times reported that a few weeks before the stoning of the Afghan couple, a widow was flogged and shot for conceiving a child out of wedlock, though she intended to marry the father of the child. The 41-year-old woman was sentenced to 200 lashes with a whip, a sentence as inhumane as the stoning deaths.

But poor human rights as well as little regard for fair assessments and punishments are just side effects to a bigger issue: the increasing influence of the Taliban on Afghan law since the end of their rule in the late 1990s. This comes even though Afghan officials, with support from Western countries, have insisted that Taliban leaders accept the Afghan Constitution, which guarantees women’s rights, according to the New York Times.

“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,” said Nader Nadery, commissioner at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, as quoted in the New York Times.

International pressure condemning the harsh sentencing of these Islamic citizens has created a domino effect, gathering more opposition and ultimately putting a halt to the latest stoning sentence of Sakineh M. Ashtianí, an Iranian woman. Spanish newspaper El País reported that Ashtianí was sentenced to 99 lashes in 2006 due to an alleged adultery crime, but later signed a stoning sentence for herself, after not understanding the term “stoning.”

Though Ashtianí is promised a fair trial and global organizations such as Amnesty International have been able to advocate for change, the future end of these barbaric methods is unsure.

The harsh punishment for these social crimes is not only a sharp contrast to the popular array of celebrity feuds, love scandals and professional-athlete-adultery examples that grace the covers of our magazines – but a disappointing one as well.

By Diana Galban

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