The Afghan justice ministry is reportedly including public “stoning” as a punishment for adultery in the draft of the new penal code that is to be finalized. Made infamous during the rule of the Taliban, “stoning” as a punishment is being justified by Afghan officials as based on the teaching of the Qur'an. This step was exposed by multiple news organizations even as tensions increase between the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai and NATO-led international coalition about signing a “status of forces” agreement to retain some American troops in Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal in 2014.
The draft of the measure was obtained by The Telegraph, which discovered that unmarried “adulterers” would be given 100 lashes and married adulterers would be publicly stoned. The Afghan legislative director Rohullah Qarizada defended the measure, saying “We are working on the draft of a Sharia penal code where the punishment for adultery, if there are four eyewitnesses, stoning. The Islamic Sharia instructs us to do so.. There is a verse in the Qur'an about it.”
The Guardian found the Article 21 of the draft penal code states, "Men and women who commit adultery shall be punished based on the circumstances to one of the following punishments: lashing, stoning [to death].”
The development has outraged campaigners for human rights and women's rights worldwide. The Asia director of Human Rights Watch, Brad Adams said it was “absolutely shocking that 12 years after the fall of the Taliban government, the Karzai administration might bring back stoning as a punishment. President Karzai needs to demonstrate at least a basic commitment to human rights and reject this proposal out of hand.”
However, another Afghan Justice Ministry official Mohammad Ashraf Azimi denied having seen such a proposal that Human Rights Watch complained of, claiming that he was on the team revising the legal code.
President Karzai's government has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that forbid cruel and inhuman punishment. However, observers warn that it may be trying to mollify conservative and religious Afghans by deliberately delaying legislation-improving women's rights and introducing such measures citing Sharia law and Islamic scripture. In the aftermath of the liberation of Afghanistan from Taliban rule, the new constitution made men and women equal, outlawed rape and allowed girls to return to school. However, more recently, the Afghan parliament in May scrapped the 25% quota reservation for women in the 34 provincial councils. It has also not passed legislation increasing penalties for rape, banning child marriage and outlawing “baad” - the custom of resolving disputes by trading girls. Karzai's government is already angling to negotiate with the Taliban.
Human Rights Watch has demanded that funding for the Afghan government be directly linked to positive results in making improvements for human rights, but this call has been largely ignored. Only Norway has so far cut aid to Afghanistan citing its failure to uphold human rights. The United States and the United Nations were both aware of the measure reintroducing stoning.
While the new penal code, which replaces the older one of 1976 will take another 2 years to be finalized, Qarizada attempted to mollify severe criticism by claiming that the “stoning” provision would be rarely used, as "The judge asks each witness many questions and if one answer differs from other witnesses then the court will reject the claim.”
Issues such as adultery and even love outside tribal and clan boundaries have lethal reactions in Afghanistan. In a related development, a couple were publicly executed after their attempt to flee failed due to a car crash in the province of Baghlan. Seized by a local mob, they avoided being stoned after village elders decided to execute them the following morning.
"The next day they decided and shot both of them dead in public. Our findings show that the woman's father had ordered to shoot both man and woman,” said Khadija Yaqeen, the provincial head of women's affairs. The Afghan Interior Ministry has condemned the killing as “illegal” and announced an inquiry.
This is the beginning of the real conflict, the real debate within Afghanistan - about the exact role of Islam. The proposers intend to justify this move based on the Qur'an and Sharia - two excuses considered impossible to refute in the Muslim mind. If the Afghan conscience does not speak up now, it may have to forever hold its peace, and it will have only itself to blame..