Today, for the second time this year, progressive Afghans took to Kabul’s streets to voice their outrage at a gruesome act of gender-based violence and demand justice for the victim. This time, the demonstration was prompted by the extrajudicial execution of a young woman named Najiba in a village less than two hours from the capital. Najiba, who was accused of adultery, was shot nine times in front of a cheering crowd of men.
Last week, shocking video of the crime emerged online, causing uproar among civil society activists and human rights advocates. The New York Times published this unsparing description of the footage, which quickly went viral and is still available on the Guardian’s website [caution: it's disturbing].
At the outset of the fuzzy video, which runs nearly four minutes and appears to have been taken by a Taliban member with a cellphone, Najiba is a peripheral figure, seen kneeling in the background. Her body is turned away from the camera, her head is shrouded by a gray scarf.
Taliban fighters mill about in the foreground. A few dozen villagers watch from a hill above the impromptu execution ground. The existence of the video was first reported by the Reuters news agency, and obtained on Monday by The New York Times.
One of the Taliban says the Koran prohibits adultery. Killing the woman is “God’s order and decree,” he says. “If the issue was avenging deaths, we would beg for her amnesty. But in this case, God says, ‘You should finish her.’ ”
He concludes by saying, “It’s the order of God, and now it is her husband’s work to punish her.”
Then someone else says, “Give him a Kalashnikov.”
Armed with the borrowed assault rifle, the man identified as her husband approaches Najiba from behind. Several Taliban fighters can he heard whispering, “Get closer to her.”
He shoots Najiba nine times. The third shot jolts her body backward, leaving it flat on the ground. He keeps shooting.
Someone then says, “Long live the hero of Islam!” The Taliban begin cheering, and the villagers join in. One of the Taliban says, “Take my video, too,” and can be seen smiling, with ammunition strapped to his vest.
The video ends with the executioner shooting Najiba’s body four more times.
Amid national and international outcry, the Taliban have denied ordering Najiba’s execution, pinning responsibility on villagers adhering to tribal customs. However, the village where the killing was carried out is part of a notorious patch of loosely Taliban-held territory along the road that connects Kabul to the more peaceful central provinces of the country. Similar crimes are committed against women with distressing frequency in areas where the Taliban aren’t present, but it’s extremely unlikely that Najiba’s murderers didn’t receive at least tacit approval from the group. That’s bad news for women, for progressive Afghans generally, and for already dim hopes of a just resolution to Afghanistan’s unending war.