Public execution of an alleged Taliban member charged with murder
The incident marks the second official public execution sanctioned by the Taliban's Supreme Court since 2022 – though visual evidence has been limited.
On June 20, 2023, the Supreme Court of Afghanistan issued a statement announcing the application of a public punishment of retribution, known as qisas, to a man named Ajmal, son of Naseem. Ajmal was charged with the murder of five individuals and was identified as a resident of Guldara district in Kabul. Various pro-Taliban social media users claimed that Ajmal was a Taliban member, and expressed their support for the execution.
According to Amu TV, a local media outlet, the man in question was found guilty of breaking into the residence of Juma Khan, a resident of the Qarghayi district in Laghman province. He allegedly killed Khan's three sons and daughter and also murdered Khan's other son using a firearm in a separate incident. The Supreme Court and various media outlets stated that the man was charged following an investigation, and the death penalty was approved by three courts. Additionally, it was reported that the execution received approval from Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban Supreme Leader.
According to Afghanistan International, residents in the province reported that the Taliban prohibited photography of the execution and instructed people to refrain from bringing their phones to the scene. Consequently, there is a scarcity of available imagery, making it challenging for Afghan Witness (AW) investigators to fully verify events. However, it was reported that the execution took place in the yard of the Eidgah Mosque, situated in Mehtarlam, the capital of Laghman province. The event occurred on June 20 and was attended by several Taliban officials and members of the public.
On the afternoon of the same day, an image surfaced showing the corpse of the alleged murderer. Social media users disseminated a picture of the alleged criminal alongside a photograph of the body following the public execution, as shown below. The image depicting the dead body appeared to be in a medical setting, which corroborates the witness statements shared by VOA Pashto.
Figure: Comparison of the body of the alleged criminal before and after the public execution. Source: Twitter.
On May 4, Mawlawi Abdul Malik Haqqani, the Taliban’s Deputy Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, announced that the court issued 175 verdicts of qisas (retribution), 79 verdicts of diyat (paid compensation), and 37 verdicts of rajm (stoning to death), once the approval from the High Council of Leadership is granted. The court also sentenced four individuals to be put under a wall and 103 people to what the group described as “enforcing Sharia punishments”, while 1,562 others were sentenced to corporal punishment. The Deputy Chief Justice of the Supreme Court stated that some of these verdicts have been executed while others are in process.
According to the recent Taliban leadership’s order released on June 20, no punishment, including beating or any other form of torture, can be executed without a court order and “anyone who takes prisoners, whether they are political prisoners or civil servants, without the decision of the court” will be punished. The order additionally stated that photographing or recording the implementation of a sentence is prohibited. The announcement warned that any person who violates the order would face criminal charges.
Taliban carefully choreograph introduction of stronger punishments
This incident marks the second official public execution sanctioned by the Taliban's Supreme Court since 2022, the first being on December 7, 2022, in Farah. Since the Taliban assumed control in 2021, AW has recorded a total of 48 reported instances of public punishment involving varying numbers of individuals. Six of these have been reported in Laghman province, the location of the recent execution. However, due to the Taliban's stringent restrictions on photographing or filming such scenes, there has been only one visual confirmation of a public punishment thus far, which emerged through a video depicting public flogging at a stadium in Kandahar, which was shared on social media.
The May 4 statement from the Deputy Chief Justice indicates a significant uptick in public punishments is in train, however, it appears the Taliban are carefully choreographing the reintroduction of harsher punishments. Selecting a Taliban member for execution is clearly designed to show that justice will be applied to all, while statements seek to stress due process and not be seen to condone extrajudicial justice and executions at the hands of field courts.