Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Eye-for-an-eye sharia justice returns to Afghan courts under the Taliban

Under Taliban, eye-for-an-eye sharia justice returns to Afghan courts

 GHAZNI: An elderly man pleading for his life in front of a turban-clad judge in a cramped room at the Ghazni Court of Appeal in eastern Afghanistan.

The 75-year-old confesses to killing a relative in retaliation for rumors that he had sexual relations with his daughter-in-law.

He faces public execution under eye-for-eye sharia punishments, which the Taliban's supreme leader officially ordered for the first time last month. His sentence will be carried out by a relative of his victim.

The elderly man cries out, "We have made peace between the families."

"I have observers who can demonstrate that we have settled on pay."

Since the Taliban came back to power in August of last year, the AFP was granted rare access to a Ghazni court to observe how sharia law is being applied.

After the Taliban were toppled in 2001, a new judicial system that combined Islamic and secular law, had competent prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges, and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to construct.

In addition to overseeing cases involving ardent Taliban militants and bringing a gender balance to family courts, many women were recruited into the system.

The Taliban have undone everything, and all trials, sentences, and punishments are now administered by clerics who are all men.

Islamic regulation, or sharia, goes about as a code of living for Muslims around the world, offering direction on issues like humility, money and wrongdoing. However, interpretations vary based on religious tradition, culture, and local custom.

One of the most extreme interpretations of the law has been used by Taliban scholars in Afghanistan, which includes using the death penalty and corporal punishment, which are rarely used in most modern Muslim nations.

Mohiuddin Umari, head of the Ghazni court, says between sips of tea that the difference between the system of the previous government and the system of today "is as big as the earth and the sky."

Ghazni's formal Western-style courtroom has been abandoned by officials, and instead, proceedings take place in a small side room with participants sitting on a carpeted floor.

A bunk bed in the corner of the cramped room, heated by an old wood stove, houses religious books and a Kalashnikov rifle.

Mohammad Mobin, a young judge, listens intently before asking a few questions.

The old man has time to gather witnesses who can testify that the families have agreed with what he says, so he orders a second hearing in a few days.

Mobin asserts, "The judgment can be revised if he proves his claim."

"It is certain that the qisas (an eye-for-an-eye) enshrined in the sharia will apply" in the event that this is not the case.

Since the Taliban's return in August 2021, Mobin has been at the appeals court, surrounded by thin, handwritten files held together by string.

He claims that since then, around a dozen death sentences have been issued in Ghazni province, but none of them have been carried out, in part due to the appeals process.

"It is truly challenging to pursue such a choice and we are extremely cautious," the 34-year-old tells AFP.

"However, if we have particular evidence, God directs us and tells us not to sympathize with these people."

In the event that the elderly man's appeal fails, the case moves on to the Supreme Court in Kabul and, ultimately, to supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada, who upholds all capital punishments.

That was the situation earlier this month in the western city of Farah, where the Taliban carried out their first public execution since coming to power. Rights groups and governments and organizations from other countries strongly opposed the act.

Ghazni court head Umari demands the sharia framework is obviously superior to the one it supplanted, even while yielding that authorities need more insight.

The non-governmental organization Transparency International ranked Afghanistan 177th out of 180 states as the most corrupt in 2021. The country's courts were notorious for graft, and many cases were delayed for years.

"The Islamic Emirate is showing transparency," Umari says, referring to Afghanistan as referred to by the Taliban.

Many Afghans claim that civil cases have better chances in sharia courts because they are less likely to be corrupted under the previous Western-backed government.

However, according to jurists, the new system makes criminal cases more likely to fail.

"Some cases, if decided quickly, are better," says a prosecutor who is currently unemployed but requested anonymity out of fear of retribution.

"However, most of the time, speed causes hasty decisions."

Umari demands all decisions are entirely explored, adding "on the off chance that an adjudicator has committed an error we examine".

However, the elderly man who was sentenced to death in Ghazni claims that he did not have a lawyer, and his appeal lasted less than fifteen minutes.

He asserts, "The court should not have sentenced me to death."

I've been behind bars for more than eight months. They (the family) have consented to save me," he adds, fastening a line of petitioning God dabs in his bound hands.

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