The Taliban will resume the executions and amputation of the hands of the criminals they convict, in return to their harsh version of Islamic justice.
According to a senior official – a veteran of the die-hard Islamist group who was in charge of justice during his previous period in power – the executions would not necessarily take place in public as they did before.
The Taliban’s first period in power in Afghanistan in the 1990s, before they were overthrown by a 2001 US-led invasion in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, was marked by the gruesome excesses of its lip service, which included public executions in the Kabul football stadium.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Mullah Nooruddin Turabi – who was justice minister and head of the so-called ministry for the propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice during the previous Taliban regime – dismissed the outrage sparked by past executions by the Taliban, which at times lasted in front of crowds in a stadium, and warned the world against meddling with the new Afghan rulers.
Under the new Taliban government, Turabi is in charge of the prisons. He is one of a number of Taliban leaders, including members of the all-male interim cabinet, who are on a United Nations sanctions list.
“Everyone criticized us for the punishments in the stadium, but we never said anything about their laws and punishments,” Turabi said in Kabul. “No one will tell us what our laws should be. We will follow Islam and we will make our laws on the Quran.
“Cutting off your hands is very necessary for safety,” Turabi added, saying it had a deterrent effect. He said the cabinet was considering whether to apply sanctions in public and “would develop a policy.”
Turabi’s comments follow warnings from Afghans who fled the country after the US withdrawal that the Taliban’s justice system was more likely to follow the pattern of how its ‘shadow courts’ handed down sentences in the areas they controlled, rather than the system that operated under the former government backed by the West.
The shadow justice system, led by Mawlavi Abdul Hakim Sharie, who is the Taliban’s new justice minister, was used to undermine the authority of the previous regime, settling disputes in a country where many felt they had little access to legal remedies .
A 2020 Human Rights Watch report, however, suggested abuses by the Taliban justice system, including “prolonged arbitrary detentions and summary sentences, including executions.”
“Although public punishments for offenses are rare compared to the 1990s for offenses deemed more serious,” the report continues, “Taliban officials have jailed residents and inflicted corporal punishment such as beatings.”
Since the Taliban invaded Kabul on August 15 and took control of the country, Afghans and the world have been watching to see if they will recreate their harsh rule of the late 1990s.
At that time, the world denounced the punishments of the Taliban, which took place in the sports stadium in Kabul or on the grounds of the sprawling Eid Gah mosque, often frequented by hundreds of Afghan men.
Executions of convicted murderers were usually with a single shot in the head, carried out by the victim’s family, who had the option of accepting the “blood cost” and leaving the culprit alive.
For convicted thieves, the punishment was the amputation of a hand. For those convicted of highway robbery, one hand and one foot were amputated.
Trials and sentences were rarely public, and the judiciary favored Islamic clerics, whose knowledge of the law was limited to religious injunctions.
Turabi said this time the judges – including women – would rule on cases, but the foundation of Afghan laws would be the Qur’an. He said the same punishments would be reinstated.
Taliban fighters have already revived a punishment they commonly used in the past: public disgrace of men accused of petty theft.
On at least two occasions in Kabul last week, men accused of petty theft were piled into the back of a van with their hands tied and marched for their humiliation.
In one case, their faces were painted to identify them as thieves. In the other, stale bread was hung around their necks or stuffed into their mouths. It was not immediately clear what their crimes were.
During the Taliban’s previous rule, Turabi was one of the fiercest and most uncompromising executors of the group. When the Taliban took power in 1996, one of its first acts was to yell at a female journalist, asking her to leave a men’s room, then slap a powerful slap in the face of a man who s ‘is opposed to it.
Despite comments on justice, Turabi tried to insist that the Taliban’s current iteration was different, saying the group would allow television, cellphones, photos and video “because it is the need of the people, and we are serious about it ”.