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DEATH PENALTY-PAKISTAN: Stonings – Sign of Taliban Resurgence

Ashfaq Yusufzai

PESHAWAR, May 6 2008 (IPS) - The Taliban have confirmed that their sympathisers have executed by stoning a runaway couple in this remote tribal region bordering Afghanistan – their first known use here of this long drawn-out death sentence for a so-called “honour crime”.

“A qazi (religious official) court run by the Taliban found the couple guilty of adultery and sentenced them to death by stoning. The sentence was carried out in Khwezai-Baezai area of the Mohmand Agency, about 60 km north of the border city of Peshawar,” Mohammad Asad, a Taliban spokesman, told IPS. The execution took place on Apr 1, two weeks after the Taliban had issued their ruling.

“Shano (Bibi) was a married woman living in Peshawar and her family had filed a complaint that she had been abducted by Daulat Khan. But later it was reported that she had eloped with him,” Asad alleged.

Mohmand Agency is one of seven tribal regions on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The regions form part of the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), encompassing more than 6,000 square km where the Taliban have sanctuaries.

The stonings were condemned by human rights organisations. They appeared to be a worrying new development in the old-age tribal practice of “honour killings” with the Taliban now adjudicating with a more cruel form of the ultimate punishment rather than firing squads.

“We ask the government to arrest the people responsible and bring them to justice,” Kamran Arif, a member of the executive council of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), told IPS.

“The government must take strict action against those responsible,” added Rahshanda Naz of the Aurat Foundation, a national NGO with offices throughout the country.

A Peshawar lawyer, Noor Alam Khan, said that he had noted recent cases of “honour killings” – the execution of those who had allegedly brought shame on their families – which were “frequently making newspaper headlines”.

“In these rigidly patriarchal communities, wives, daughters, sisters and mothers are killed for the least sexual indiscretion and on the slightest suspicion of adultery,” Khan explained.

Zahir Ali, a writer on the Urdu-language newspaper Aaj (Today) published in Peshawar, said the reported incidents did not give a full picture of what was currently happening in the region. Journalistic self-censorship was preventing full reporting.

“There are cases occurring almost once or twice a month, but we can’t report them due to the harsh reaction that this would create in the community,” he explained to IPS.

The most recent case was on May 1 when a couple in a local village was killed for marrying without the consent of their families, he said.

Khan said that the incidents confirmed that the recent laws to rein in the practice had failed “to bring about the desired results”. In 2005, the Criminal Justice Act was amended to prevent courts from acquitting offenders after they had reached their own out-of-court compromise agreements, sometimes in return for compensation.

Since then, there have been several inconsistent rulings in the Peshawar High Court and law enforcement authorities which appeared to run counter to the spirit of the legal amendments.

A month ago, the Peshawar High Court overturned a death sentence passed against Gul Zaman for murdering his wife and three daughters, allegedly for venturing out of their house without his permission. The judge made his ruling after hearing that the surviving three sons and daughter had forgiven their father.

The original death sentence had been passed on Jan 31, 2005 by a local court.

But in March last year, the Peshawar High Court issued a firm ruling in accordance with the new legal amendments to curb the practice of “honour killings”.

The court confirmed the 10-year prison sentence against Gul Zameen for murdering his mother in the upper Dir district of NWFP in Feb last year.

The presiding judge, Dost Muhammad Khan, then said: “In some backward areas women are being treated as second-class citizens and such inhuman practices as honour-related killings are still in vogue. This is against Islam as well as the law of the land.”

Six months later, the Peshawar High Court annulled a compromise agreement that would have set free a father who was convicted of murdering his daughter with the help of his son and nephew after she married without his permission. Justice Tariq Pervez sentenced each of them to 10 years imprisonment.

Local police have sometimes shown reluctance to act on reports of “honour killings”.

Last year, in Mardan, 60 km from Peshawar, the police arrested, but then released without pressing charges, the relatives of a couple killed for allegedly bringing discredit on the family.

Recently, also in Mardan, the police did not even bother with an initial report on allegations that a powerful local landlord had shot his daughter and driver after they eloped, Sajjad Ali, an NGO activist, told IPS.

In the past three years, defence lawyers had developed skills in “hoodwinking” courts to circumvent the amendments to curbing the practice of reaching family compromises to head off prosecution charges, according to Khan.

The effect of the new laws against “honour killings” was also being blunted by a continuing readiness of the courts to consider mitigating circumstances.

“Often courts adopt a lenient view towards the accused on the grounds of “grave and sudden provocation” which nowhere exists in the law,” Naz said.

Human rights organisations are now calling on the government to take firmer action on all fronts to bring to a halt “honour killings”.

Up to now, the authorities had “utterly failed to apply the brakes” on the practice, Jamila Bibi of the HRCP said.

“Drastic changes are needed,” Naz insisted.

“It is un-Islamic to kill a woman or a man in the name of honour. We will fight this outrageous tradition,” Sitara Imran, minister for women’s development in the NWFP parliament, told IPS.

Between 1998 and 2002, HRCP registered 1,339 cases of “honour killings”. About half of the victims were married women. HRCP believes most such murders go unreported.

HRCP has issued no recent statistics on “honour killings”. But the continuing high number of husbands killing their wives in Pakistan suggests that the number has not been falling. In 2006, 355 husbands were accused of this offence, compared to 296 in 2005, HRCP has reported.

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