Public executions and torture: ‘The Taliban have reverted to their true nature’
In the latest example of public punishments carried out by the Taliban, two men were forced to wear a chador, a full-length hijab traditionally worn by women as a form of public "humiliation". But other punishments meted out by the Taliban have been far more violent, including flagellations and public executions. While Afghan activists have documented dozens of public punishments since October 2022, video evidence of them is scarce – only two videos document these brutal tactics.
The footage shows two men standing in a Kabul square, standing on a platform high enough for any passerby to notice them. The men were accused of petty theft and a Taliban court decided to “humiliate” them as a “punishment” by dressing them up as women, in what the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security considers the worst country in the world to be a woman.
‘They want to say these men are weak and spineless’
Huda Khamoosh, an Afghan women's rights activist who was forced to flee her country in 2021 after the Taliban regained control, explains:
In the eyes of the Taliban, women are a symbol of weakness, inadequacy and powerlessness. Women are only there to bear children and cook for their husbands. Therefore, it is normal that wearing women's clothes is an unspeakable humiliation for a man. They want to say that these men are weak and spineless and do not deserve to be called men: they are women.
It is ridiculous that their suicide bombers did exactly the same thing: they wore women's chadors to blend in unnoticed and blow themselves up [Editor’s note: During attacks between 2001, when the Taliban lost power after the US invasion, and 2021, when the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan as a whole].
As far as I remember, this is the first time the Taliban have used this form of "punishment" for criminals, but they have done much worse since August 2021. Women are not allowed to go outside alone, they must always be accompanied by an adult male relative, they are not allowed to study, they are not allowed to work, there are cases of divorced women remarrying their ex-husbands.
And on top of that, women are being whipped and tortured in public, as we saw in the 1990s.
Some of the most brutal images from the Taliban’s reign over Afghanistan in the 1990s include videos of stonings and public executions of men and women in stadiums around the country. Videos like these shocked the world and drew attention to the Taliban’s tactics.
When the United States launched an invasion into Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban lost power and these public punishments ceased for a short while. After a few years, once the Taliban regained control of some territory, public stonings, floggings and executions returned in many rural areas – despite the US-backed government in Kabul.
>> Read more on The Observers: Taliban tribunal gives woman 40 lashes for talking to a man on the phone
After years of negotiations between the Taliban and US diplomats, the US military withdrew and the Taliban took back control of Afghanistan in August 2021. Since then, the fundamentalist group has started reverting back to their old habits.
In September 2021, the Taliban suspended the bodies of four men accused of kidnapping in one of the main squares of Herat in western Afghanistan.
According to Afghan Witness, a collective that monitors the Taliban human rights abuse cases, the Taliban carried out at least 36 public punishments in Afghanistan between October 2022 and March 2023. The group has documented public executions and public flagellations ordered by the Taliban courts. The number of victims is estimated at more than 200.
'The victims are sometimes members of the anti-Taliban resistance [...] and many are just random people accused of petty theft, drug dealing or adultery'
Mokhtar Wafayi is an Afghan dissident, who now lives abroad. He’s an expert on the Taliban’s operations.
When the Taliban conquered Afghanistan in 2020, they initially committed random cruel acts like these here and there in the country, but very soon they were stopped by the Taliban chain of command. That isn't to say that they didn't torture or kill people – they did – but it was behind the scenes and as quietly as possible.
During the years of negotiations with the Americans in Doha, they had promised to abide by the human rights charters and laws that the previous Afghan government had signed.
But after a year, when they saw that the international community had no intention of recognising them as the valid sovereign leaders of Afghanistan, they reverted to their true nature [Editors note: Despite diplomatic relations between some countries and the Taliban, no country has yet recognised the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan].
Ultimately, all Taliban leaders are extremists, but a section of them, who have been in Doha for years and have been involved in negotiations with Washington, wanted to either limit or at least conceal the Taliban's atrocities as much as possible in order to gain international recognition for their regime. But after months without success, the hawks, the more powerful ones, including Mullah Haibatullah, the leader of the Taliban, have lost patience.
On November 14, 2022, Mullah Haibatullah issued a decree stressing that Islamic Sharia law must be applied in Afghanistan, including execution and “hudud” [the Islamic term for torture or public punishments for a crime], which is when the amount of public torture and executions increased.
On December 7, 2022 they publicly executed a man in Farah in the presence of senior Taliban leaders in a stadium.
The victims are sometimes members of the anti-Taliban resistance, sometimes rival group members are publicly executed, such as ISIS, and many are just random people accused of petty theft, drug dealing or adultery.
Amnesty International issued a public statement in March 2023 calling on the United Nations Human Rights Council to address the deteriorating human rights situation in Afghanistan:
“Since they took control of the country in August 2021, the Taliban have violated women’s and girls’ rights to education, work and free movement; decimated the system of protection and support for those fleeing domestic violence; detained women and girls for minor violations of discriminatory rules; and contributed to a surge in the rates of child, early and forced marriage in Afghanistan.”