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Afghan Woman Reportedly Stoned to Death over Adultery Claim

by Abid Aslam


Published on Tuesday, April 26, 2005 by OneWorld US


WASHINGTON -- A leading human rights group has condemned the first reported execution of an Afghan woman for alleged adultery since the ouster of the extremist Taliban regime.

The 29-year-old woman, named only as Amina, was killed Thursday. Afghan police said they are investigating.

''The case of Amina demonstrates the failure of the Afghan government to protect, ensure and dispense justice, particularly for women,'' rights watchdog Amnesty International said Tuesday.

Amnesty, citing reports from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said the woman had been sentenced to death by a decree from a local religious figure, or mullah, in the Urgu district of northeastern Badakhshan province.

''The Afghan government has the responsibility of protecting women from violence, committed not only by the state but also by private individuals and groups,'' Amnesty said in a statement issued after sifting reports of Amina's stoning to death.

Amnesty, citing eyewitnesses, said Amina's husband and local officials dragged her out of her parents' house before stoning her to death in public. The man accused of committing adultery with her reportedly was whipped one hundred times and freed.

Police officials and Afghan human rights commission workers, however, have told news agencies that local accounts also suggest the possibility that Amina's husband and his family may have killed her by some other means, not by stoning, and that they could have trumped up the adultery accusations against her to deflect her request for a separation.

Journalists also have reported that Amina's husband recently returned from Iran after five years away and that she asked him for a separation on the grounds that her husband could not support her. The husband, however, accused Amina of having a relationship with another man. It was not clear whether the couple had any children.

During the Taliban's rule, adultery provided a frequent basis or pretext for women to be stoned to death. At least one other woman reportedly was stoned to death in the same area as Amina in the three-plus years since the Taliban's removal. Amina's apparently was the first sanctioned execution of a woman for adultery, Amnesty said.

Amnesty welcomed Afghan officials' assurances that they are investigating and urged the government of President Hamid Karzai to abolish the death penalty.

''The case of Amina illustrates the irredeemable injustice of the application of the death penalty,'' the group said.

''This is especially pertinent with regards to Afghanistan where the central criminal justice system is unable to provide adequate safeguards against local court decisions and similarly cannot, as of yet, ensure the minimum standards of a fair trial with due process,'' it added.

The case also highlights the precarious situation of Afghan women even after the Taliban's ouster.

''Despite the overthrow of the Taliban, Afghan women continue to endure undue dangers and discrimination,'' according to an assessment by the Washington-based advocacy group Women's Edge Coalition.

''Rape of women is still rampant as a means of revenge against the Pashtuns, the ethnic group most closely associated with the Taliban,'' Women's Edge said. ''Outside of Kabul, women continue to fear the repercussions of appearing in public without the burqa, and mothers are still dying at a rate of 160 per 10,000 live births. Given that women outnumber men 6 to 4 in Afghanistan, widespread gender-based violence and deprivation must be seen as mainstream epidemics afflicting the majority of the population.''

Under international human rights law, states must exercise due diligence to secure women's rights to equality, life, liberty, security, and freedom from discrimination, torture, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, Amnesty said.

Adultery is forbidden under Islamic law, which places sentences ranging from whipping to stoning to death unless the adulterers repent and change their ways, according to the Web site Islam Online.

However, sentences can only be handed down after an Islamic court has heard evidence, according to the religious site.

Standards of evidence require that in order to convict someone of adultery, the accused must make a confession and not retract it. Alternatively, four men deemed reliable and pious must testify that they witnessed the act and actually saw the man's penis inserted into the woman's vagina, according to Islam Online.

''Any doubt about the evidence should prevent the punishment,'' it said.

Islamic scholars have debated the rules of evidence even as women's and rights advocates have assailed them as biased, lacking legal rigor, failing to ensure due process, and an invitation to abuse. Rights monitors and religious scholars alike have said, however, that mullahs have honored the standards mainly in the breach.

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