In what has to be the most disturbing story of the weekend, an Afghan couple were executed Sunday in the first public stoning since the Taliban fell from power in 2001. Their crime: eloping.
According to Rod Nordland of the Times, twenty-five-year-old Khayyam and nineteen-year-old Siddiqa had sought permission from their families to marry, but she was engaged against her will to one of his relatives. So they fled to another province — but their family lured them back home with promises that they'd be forgiven. Instead, they were arrested by Taliban authorities and sentenced to stoning. The all-male crowd was apparently "festive and cheering" as they pelted the couple to death — says one local witness, "People were very happy seeing this. They did a bad thing."
Though the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, they have been gathering power again, and experts think the stoning signals the group's renewed strength. Says Nader Nadery of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, "We see it as a sign of a new confidence on the part of the Taliban in the application of their rules, like they did in the '90s. We do see it as a trend, they're showing more strength in recent months, not just in attacks, but including their own way of implementing laws, arbitrary and extrajudicial killings." And though in this case a man and a woman were executed, Nadery also mentioned that "We've seen a big increase in intimidation of women and more strict rules on women" — earlier this month, a pregnant woman was shot to death for having extramarital sex. Though the story of Khayyam and Siddiqa is tragic in itself, it's also a reminder of the very real human rights risks of a re-empowered Taliban, something that makes the apparently sorry state of the war in Afghanistan all the more disturbing.