Huddled on the ground before a man in a turban

Heather Barr at Human Rights Watch reports:

It’s a scene we associate with the Taliban. A woman covered head to toe in a flowing veil, huddled on the ground before a man in a turban. His right arm is raised, in motion, holding a lash, a second away from bringing it down on her. An audience of men – only men – sit in a circle around them. They have chairs – a nod to their comfort while they watch what may be intended as a cautionary lesson, or spectacle.

This is not the Taliban. This photo emerged on September 1, and reportedly shows the lashing of a woman named Zarmina, 22, who was arrested with a man named Ahmad, 21, several weeks ago in Afghanistan’s Ghor province. The two were accused of zina, or sex outside of marriage, which under Afghan law is a crime carrying a sentence of 5 to 15 years in prison. The two were sentenced to 100 lashes each by a court – not a Taliban tribunal, not a convening of elders, but a formal court of law…

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The men watching do look very relaxed and comfortable, as if at a pleasant afternoon concert.

Sex between two consenting adults should never be a crime. But even more horrifyingly, a conviction for zina in Afghanistan is often based on the shakiest of evidence. When I interviewed dozens of women and girls imprisoned for zina and reviewed their cases, I learned that judges hand down harsh sentences based on women having left the home without permission, having been alone in the presence of a man who is not a relative, on malicious statements from angry and abusive husbands and fathers, and on abusive “virginity exams” – vaginal examinations that are medically meaningless.

Well, maybe, but where there’s smoke there’s fire, you know.

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