By Ron Synovitz, RFE/RL|
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has signed nine
execution orders that have been carried out at Afghan prisons during the past
Among those making the demand was Shukria Barakzai,
a woman who is a member of the Afghan parliament.
UN human rights officials say they are concerned about the executions because of
the shortcomings of the judicial system.
But a growing number of Afghans -- weary of lawlessness and increased violent
crime in their country -- are demanding the execution of convicted murderers,
rapists, or kidnappers.
In fact, many tell RFE/RL they want the government to execute criminals in
public -- something that hasn't occurred in the country since the rule of the
For most of the world, secretly filmed public executions at Afghan sports
stadiums rank alongside the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas as one of the
enduring negative images of the Taliban regime.
Conventional wisdom in Afghanistan has it that public executions lead to a
reduction of violent crime.
The issue has put Karzai in a difficult position.
Running for reelection in 2009, Karzai must heed the demands of voters who are
angry about the sharp increase of crimes such as kidnapping, rape, and murder in
But Karzai also cannot afford to alienate international donors who may withhold
desperately needed aid over the issue.
When Karzai attended a conference in Kabul for politically active Afghan women
on October 29, one of their main demands was the reintroduction of public
executions for those convicted of kidnapping or rape.
"We want capital punishment for those who rape girls and women and our children.
This is our legal right, according to both Shari'a law and international
standards," Barakzai said.
That view horrifies Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations' high commissioner for
human rights, because Karzai himself has acknowledged that the Afghan judicial
system has serious flaws.
Karzai explained to the women at the conference that Afghanistan would risk
losing aid it receives from the UN and international donors if executions are,
once again, carried out in public.
Instead, Karzai promised the women that he would start signing execution orders
for the 120 prisoners now sitting on death row. His stipulation was that
executions would happen only within the walls of the country's prisons.
"If someone is a kidnapper or violating a woman's life, and if the Supreme Court
orders their execution, that is absolutely correct. We do not care about [the
opinions of] foreigners [on this issue]," Karzai said.
Death By Hanging
Since that conference, Karzai has signed execution orders against nine men. All
were killed by hanging within Kabul's Pul-e Charki prison or at other jails in
Afghan Deputy Justice Minister Qasim Hashemzai tells RFE/RL that all nine
executions involved former Taliban fighters or violent criminals who were
convicted of murder, rape, or kidnapping.
Hashemzai says that in all of the cases, the death sentence was issued by the
Supreme Court and then sent to Karzai for his approval -- as required by the
Afghan Constitution. He says Karzai signed the execution orders only after the
president's office conducted its own investigation into each case.
"Afghanistan's constitution confirms the death penalty [is appropriate
punishment for crimes like murder, rape, and kidnapping]. But we are also taking
into consideration international standards," Hashemzai says.
"The president has been thinking for some time how to reduce the death penalty
in these cases to life in prison. But he couldn't find a way. So he has signed
the execution orders."Hashemzai also explains how Karzai's administration came to the conclusion that
executions should not be carried out in public.
"There are some references in the laws of Afghanistan about public executions
and we are acting according to the law. The law says that executions must be
carried out in what is called a 'safe area,'" he says.
"Our interpretation of 'safe area' is that executions should not be carried out
in public. We have such a safe area inside the Pul-e Charki prison. So the
executions are taking place within that facility."
Shkula, a young woman from Kabul, says she strongly agrees with the death
penalty for murder, rape, and kidnapping.
"Every criminal should be punished. I think this is a very positive step. This
is the only way of enforcing law and order. And it will have positive effects in
the future," Shkula says.
But many Afghans say they disagree with the central government's decision not to
carry out executions in public. Asad, a political science student at Kabul
University, tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that he thinks public
executions are a strong deterrent against violent crime.
"I think the death penalty is absolutely correct. Across the entire world,
criminals are punished for their crimes. And under Islam, if someone is a killer
then he must be executed," Asad says.
"But I am upset about one thing. According to Islamic law, executions must be
public. Executions are not meant only to kill a criminal. They also serve to
teach a lesson to others."
But Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, is concerned about any
kind of state execution, whether public or not. This, she says, is because the
police and court systems in Afghanistan "fall short of internationally accepted
standards guaranteeing due process and fair trial."
She says that under the current circumstances in Afghanistan, there is a grave
risk of miscarriages of justice -- leading to the execution of innocent people.
She has urged Afghanistan to call a halt to any further executions and "to
rejoin the growing international consensus for a moratorium on the death
Before this week, the last known executions by the Afghan government were of 15
men in 2007 and a single man in 2004.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report from Kabul and Prague
Copyright (c) 2008 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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