A senior religious leader named by Kabul to investigate the stoning death of a 19-year-old woman in Ghor province has justified the act at a Friday sermon, New York Times reports.

A video shows men stoning a woman in a hole to death in Afghanistan's Ghor province on October 25
Men stoning a woman in a hole to death in Afghanistan’s Ghor province on October 25

Any married Muslim woman committing adultery has to be stoned, said Maulavi (priest) Inayatullah Baleegh during his sermon at Pul-e Khishti mosque in Kabul adding this will protect and safeguard the honor of women in society.

The video of Rukhshana standing in a pit (watch video) with just her head above the ground screaming out a prayer as elders stoned her to death shocked thousands of viewers. While human rights groups denounced the attack, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani ordered an investigation into the “heinous act”.

A presidential decree, Elimination of Violence against Women Act, issued in 2009 forbids stoning and flogging of adulterers.

But mullahs ignore the decree which is yet to be ratified by Parliament.

The killing reportedly took place in Ghalmin, a village on the outskirts of Firoz Koh, the capital of Ghor Province.

Ghor Governor Sima Joyenda told RFE/RL on November 2 that the stoning was carried out by “Taliban, local religious leaders, and armed warlords” after Rukhshana was found guilty of committing adultery.

Joyenda said her (Rukhshana’s) family had married her off against her will and that she was caught while eloping with a 23-year-old Mohammad Gul.

Gul, a bachelor, was given the lesser punishment of 100 lashes and sent home.

Rafiullah Bedar, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, told Shamshad TV on November 3 that stoning was “un-Islamic.”

Najia Aimaq, a parliament member from the northern Baghlan Province, said people who carry out such acts should be punished.

Local police official Mohammad Zaman Azimi has said the stoning was carried out by the Taliban, as did Masooma Anwari, the head of women’s affairs in Ghor.

But some, including activist Wazhma Frogh, co-founder of the Research Institute for Women, Peace and Security, were skeptical.

“We are told elders did this!,” Frogh wrote in a November 3 tweet. “Not defending any atrocities of Ts [the Taliban] but if done by elders then we’re covering up a crime.”

Joyenda, who has been the target of death threats and protests calling for her ouster, stressed that the village where the stoning occurred was controlled by the Taliban.

The provincial government’s power extends little beyond Firoz Koh. Dozens of illegal, armed groups run by former warlords and militia leaders are active in Ghor, a key transit route for arms and drugs, and the resulting clashes are seen to be the source of much of the violence in the province.

The war in Afghanistan is often used as cover for a wide range of crimes, including revenge killings, kidnapping for ransom, and extortion.

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