Another video of another Afghan woman killed, this time for adultery

We’re in an era of one-name victims of such gruesome gender violence, they trigger public outrage, forcing governments to act and enabling us to fool ourselves that may be this time, things will change.

Earlier this year, it was Farkhunda, an Islamic studies student who was mauled to death by a mob in Kabul’s Shah-Du-Shamshaira mosque in the heart of the Afghan capital. Farkhunda’s lynching sparked mass demonstrations in Kabul, with protesters chanting, “Maa hama Farkhunda yem,” (“We are all Farkhunda”) and demanding that justice be served. 

Now it’s Rokhsahana, a young Afghan woman who was stoned to death in the central Afghan province of Ghor after being accused of adultery. Local officials say the incident occurred in a Taliban-controlled area just outside Firozkoh, the capital of Ghor.

A 30-second video of the stoning promptly went viral this week on Afghan social media sites -- just as Farkhunda clips began making the rounds shortly after the March 19 lynching.

The Rokhsahana video clip makes gruesome watching. A handful of turbaned men stand around the woman placed in a hole in a barren, dusty valley. At an almost leisurely pace, the men bend to pick rocks scattered around the site and hurl it at Rokhsahana, who can be heard whimpering the shahada, or Muslim profession of fate. There’s no coordination or ISIS-level choreography to the macabre action here.

The men carry out the stoning in a nonchalant, almost routine way, offering instructions, walking leisurely around the victim to get a better stoning position. Some even jockey for positions to capture the action on their mobile phones.

As the stoning continues, Rokhsahana’s whimpers give way to a desperate, high-pitched recitation of the shahada. How can anyone go about the slow, deliberate business of stoning to death a screaming woman is a study in the sheer banality of misogyny.

A province led by a woman

That the incident happened in Ghor, a remote but once relatively stable province, is troubling. Ghor also happens to be one of only two Afghan provinces led by a female governor.

When President Ashraf Ghani appointed Seema Joyenda as Ghor’s governor in June, it was seen as a late, but welcome move by the Afghan leader to make good on his campaign promise to increase female representation in his government.

But governing Afghan provinces is not an easy business. Just as Ghani’s office was announcing Joyenda’s appointment, the only other female governor, Masooma Muradi, governor of Daikundi province, was stranded in Kabul since protesters linked to a local strongman were holding sit-ins to prevent her from using her office.

Joyenda too has faced an uphill task trying to do her job. Last month, she accused armed commanders -- or “bullies” as she called them -- of threatening her and her family. "I'm afraid they will kill me or my family members," the 44-year-old mother of nine told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “They can do this because they have power and weapons."

What the law says

Instability in Ghor has been on the rise, with a December 2014 investigation by IWPR (Institute for War and Peace Reporting) finding the central Afghan province in the grip of around 40 warlords backed by thousands of paramilitaries.

The report came months after suspected Taliban gunmen stopped two minibuses in Ghor, singled out members of the persecuted, mainly Shiite Hazara minority and shot 15 community members, including women and children.

But you don’t have to be a Talib to commit atrocities against women in Afghanistan today. In an interview with AFP, Joyenda said Rokhsahana was stoned by a gathering of “Taliban, local religious leaders and armed warlords.”

It could be any or all of the above. In Afghanistan, the lines are often blurred.

Sometimes, the lines between so-called progressives and obscurantists can also be fuzzy. Joyenda herself came under criticism by rights groups a few months ago, when she appeared to defend a court ruling calling for a public lashing of a man and woman found guilty of adultery.

The public lashing was carried out in Ghor while Joyenda was in Kabul. But in an interview with an Afghan TV station, she noted that, "Afghanistan is an Islamic country and Ghor is one of the provinces of Afghanistan, and we cannot disobey what the law of Islam and our constitution says."

She has a point. Sharia law does decree stoning as the punishment for men and women convicted of having sex outside marriage.  Our only hope if such convictions occur is to create enough of a shindig to force local officials and politicians to prevent the sentences from being carried out.

Back in 2002, when a loya jirga was held in Kabul to set the framework for a transitional authority and future Afghan state, Abd al-Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, a noxious, anti-Taliban mujahideen commander, called for the word “Islamic” to define the country. His call, or rather his threat, was accepted by an Afghan leadership that has always been soft on appeasing Islamists and weak on standing up to conservatives.

From there, it’s all been downhill. Now the country’s fledgling human rights and civil society groups have to wage a constant battle to prevent the implementation of medieval, macabre punishments. Add to that the pressures of simply holding and administering terrain in the face of an expanding insurgency and we can expect more Rokhsahanas in the months and years to come.

What justice?

Barely six months after Farkhunda’s grisly murder and promises by top Afghan leaders that justice will be served immediately, none of those promises have been met of course.

Eight policemen, accused of dereliction of duty for failing to protect the young woman, have been found not guilty and acquitted. Eleven others got one-year sentences. Four of the main suspects in the murder trial were found guilty and initially handed death sentences. But weeks later, an appeals court reduced the sentences of three men to 20 years while the fourth got 10 years.

Shortly after the verdicts, Farkhunda’s family members told journalists they were unhappy with the sentences and that they believed justice had not been served.

But at least Farkhunda’s case went to a Kabul court under the gaze of the international community. She was, after all, an Islamic studies student who had opted to wear a severe Saudi-style black niqab, a garment not native to Afghanistan. Farkhunda was lynched when a local charm-seller in the mosque premises wrongly accused her of desecrating the Koran. In reality, she was berating the lowly, illiterate mullah for his “superstitious, un-Islamic” practices. She was a good Muslim.

Rokhsahana alas did not die defending the faith. According to Ghor officials, she had been married off against her will and was caught while eloping with another man her age.

I’m not putting any money that justice will be served in Rokhsahana’s case. In a country where a woman’s consent, much less sexual freedom, is a male prerogative, we shouldn’t get our hopes up. The usual noises will be made, the Taliban will be blamed and then everyone will simply carry on.

(If you want to watch video of Rokhsahana’s stoning, click here. Warning: graphic and disturbing content.)
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