Civilians look on as the Taliban hangs the dead bodies of four people killed on charges of kidnapping in the main square of Herat, Afghanistan. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Punitive executions and amputations are set to resume in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, following an announcement by the group’s notorious former head of religious police who told the media that such measures were “necessary for security.”
Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, who was the chief enforcer of the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islamic law when they last ruled Afghanistan in the ‘90s, told AP News that such punishments would not necessarily be carried out in public as they were during the previous regime. At that time, executions of convicted murderers were usually by a single shot to the head, carried out by the victim’s family, while the punishment for convicted thieves was the amputation of a hand.
Such acts have historically been condemned by the global community. But Turabi – who is on a UN sanctions list for his past actions – dismissed criticism of the Taliban’s previous hard-fisted reign, saying “We had complete safety in every part of the country.” He further claimed that “Cutting off of hands is very necessary for security,” and said that Cabinet was still considering whether to carry out punishments in public.
“Everyone criticised us for the [public] punishments … but we have never said anything about their laws and their punishments,” he said. “No one will tell us what our laws should be. We will follow Islam and we will make our laws on the Quran.”
The next day, the Taliban carried out a gruesome public spectacle in Afghanistan’s third-largest city of Herat, as photos of bodies of four accused kidnappers hanging from cranes around busy intersections made the rounds online. The corpses had pieces of paper taped to them, warning that the same fate awaited other kidnappers, while blood dripped on the ground. A voice from the loudspeaker of a police pickup truck broadcast a similar message.
“We are taking a hard line approach against kidnappers in Herat and will continue to implement a strict stance against them in the future,” said Taliban commander Ziaullhaq Jalali from outside Herat Regional Hospital, according to a post by journalist Charlie Faulk which showed one of the bodies hoisted above a swarm of onlookers. A video posted online by Amaj News similarly showed a body dangling from a crane while people gathered below, cars beeping to get through the crowds.
Numerous other reports of brutality and human rights abuses have emerged from Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power on August 15. Last month, Amnesty International reported that Taliban militants massacred nine ethnic Hazara men after taking control of the country’s Ghazni province in July – with Secretary General of Amnesty International Agnès Callamard describing the “cold-blooded brutality” of the killings as “a reminder of the Taliban’s past record, and a horrifying indicator of what Taliban rule may bring.”
Last week, Human Rights Watch warned that militants in Herat were “searching out high-profile women; denying women freedom of movement outside their homes; imposing compulsory dress codes; severely curtailing access to employment and education; and restricting the right to peaceful assembly.”
Such reports, along with Turabi’s statements, conflict with the resurgent Taliban’s claims of pacifism and their seeming attempt to present a more moderate face to the world. Many Afghans remaining in the country have been anxiously waiting to see whether the fundamentalist group would restore its harsh rule, while Taliban leaders continued to push a public message of magnanimity.
Even Turabi, amid comments about the return of executions, said in his interview with a female journalist that “We are changed from the past.” He added that the Taliban would now for the first time allow television, mobile phones, photos and video under their rule “because this is the necessity of the people, and we are serious about it.”
He also said that if punishments were made public, however, then people would potentially be allowed to film video or take photos in order to spread the deterrent effect.
“Now we know instead of reaching just hundreds, we can reach millions,” he said, underscoring the Taliban’s embrace of social media as a way of advancing their own political, security and militaristic agenda.
This very suggestion – that Afghans will be permitted to use cameras, video recorders and smart phones to film and upload footage of public executions – symbolises the duality between old and new that now sits at the heart of the so-called Taliban 2.0. Whereas the technophobic Taliban of yore outlawed most electronic products for being contrary to Islam doctrine, the new iteration of the group appears to understand the power that modern technology affords, and is willing to embrace it – even if only to reinforce and amplify certain tenets of its enduring fundamentalism.
“It’s clear that they’ve mastered the art of having a PR machine, being able to promote their messages and get their word out there,” Raffaello Pantucci, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, who specialises in Jihadist groups and terrorist organisations, told VICE World News last month. “They’ve got a social media presence, they can see the value of getting their message out, and they are pretty adept at doing it.”
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