Afghan Witness' in-depth analysis of judicial practices and human rights implications under Taliban rule
Above image: Kabul, Afghanistan, taken 15th Aug, 2023 | Credit: Abaca Press / Alamy Stock Photo
Below is a summary of our findings. Scroll to the bottom of the page to download the full investigation (PDF file).
Between 26 October 2022 and 26 October 2023, Afghan Witness (AW) recorded the Taliban-led Supreme Court’s announcements of Sharia punishments in Afghanistan. These announcements have been published on the court’s website and X account (formerly Twitter) since the Taliban’s Supreme Leader Mawlawi Hebatullah Akhundzada announced the return of Sharia punishments in mid- November 2022.
It is notable that, while these sentences are often referred to as “public punishments,” the public nature of these penalties is often limited; although these punishments are carried out with an audience, including Taliban officials and citizens, they are often fulfilled behind closed doors, or under significant publication restrictions. As such, there is very limited visual evidence of these punishments taking place.
Despite this, an analysis of the data AW analysts collected during this timeframe reveals the speed, extent, and manner in which, the Taliban rolled out public punishments over the past twelve month:
Between 26 October 2022 and 26 October 2023, AW recorded 71 announcements of Sharia punishments, which were handed down to a total of 417 individuals.
Punishments were held in 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces – indicating that implementation has been widespread and not isolated to one particular region.
More than half of these punishments – including the first execution – took place in December 2022. This could be a potential indication of a backlog of cases around this time, as November 2022 had the second-highest number of individuals punished.
Analysis of the statements, where a gender breakdown of those punished is available, indicates that more men were punished than women (220 men vs. 57 women).
AW analysis also sheds light on the categories of so-called crimes for which individuals are being punished; these largely crimes the Taliban consider to be ‘moral’ or sexual in nature, including illicit relationships, adultery, and sodomy. Conventional crimes, such as robbery, were also among those punished.
Most of the punishments issued have taken the form of lashings, and have fallen under the Tazir category of Sharia punishments: discretionary punishments not specified in religious texts. There have also been nine Qisas punishments announced: retributive or retaliative sentences, often taking the form of the death penalty; two of these sentences resulted in executions of alleged murderers (December 2022 and June 2023), while the remaining seven were pardoned.
At the time of writing, AW has yet to record any punishments under the Hudud category of Sharia punishments, including instances of stoning or amputation for “crimes against God”. However, sources on the ground claim there are stoning punishments awaiting approval by the Supreme Leader. This aligns with a statement released by the deputy of the Supreme Court in May 2023, which noted that since the Taliban’s takeover, many of these sentences have been issued but are yet to be carried out. This could suggest that a significant uptick of Sharia punishments is forthcoming.
Visual evidence of the punishments implemented by the Taliban has been limited. While some photos surfaced in the initial weeks and months following the first Supreme Court announcement, content has since dwindled. This could be due to the Taliban enforcing restrictions around photographing and recording the events. There is also a possibility that “public” punishments are becoming less public, and rather than being held in large stadiums, are instead being held in more closed locations, such as small mosques.
The Taliban has also sought to frame its implementation of Sharia punishments as fair, righteous and desired by Afghanistan’s citizens. They have done so by emphasising judicial norms and due process in Supreme Court announcements of Sharia punishments, underscoring the attendance of both Taliban officials and citizens of Afghanistan at the punishment events, and claiming that the punishments act as a deterrent for future crime.
The Taliban’s implementation of Sharia punishments has been controversial among certain factions for not being harsh enough. Terror organisations, such as Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), an offshoot of the Islamic State, have accused the Taliban of being too lenient and not applying Sharia to the fullest extent – which in their view would require amputations and stonings. Meanwhile, other groups like Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent and Hizb ut- Tahrir have praised the Taliban’s implementation of Sharia punishments.
Full downloadable report: