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Fateha, an 18-year-old woman who had been forced by her family to marry a man against her wishes, was killed by an armed mob that reportedly included her husband and other family members.

Brutal punishments often await Afghan women and girls who have relationships with men outside marriage -- including public floggings, prison, and even death by stoning.

One young Afghan woman who is believed to have broken that social norm paid the ultimate price last weekend when an armed mob that police say included her own family members stormed a police station, hauled her and the man she had eloped with outside, and killed them.

The gruesome incident is just the latest case in Afghanistan of so-called "honor" killings: the murder of women for allegedly dishonoring the family, such as eloping with men or committing adultery.

Police say Fateha, an 18-year-old woman who had been forced by her family to marry a man against her wishes, was detained by local authorities on February 11 along with her lover, Hedayatullah, 19, in the Wama district of the remote eastern province of Nuristan as they attempted to run away together.

Later that day, a mob consisting of hundreds of people who police say included Fateha's husband, father, brothers, and cousins stormed the police station where she was being held. The mob, which killed one police officer and wounded several others, dragged Fateha and Hedayatullah outside, where they were beaten. Police say Fateha was then shot and killed by her brother, while Fateha's husband shot and killed the young man later in the village of Sar-e-Pul.

Authorities said on February 16 that they have issued arrest warrants for the husband of the slain woman and her brother.

'Immoral Acts'

In comments to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Hafiz Abdul Qayum, the governor of Nuristan, said the couple had run away from their families when they were detained by police on suspicion of committing "immoral acts."

He at first denied that more could have been done to save the couple, suggesting that the police station was manned by only 30 officers and that they were outnumbered and outgunned by the mob. He claims there would have been a bloodbath had police intervened more forcefully.

"The number of police present was small and they were confronted by a group of 500 people, some of whom were armed," says Qayum, before later saying that the police had acted improperly by not doing more to save the lives of the young couple.

So-called moral offenses, including adultery or even running away from home, are not considered crimes according to the Afghan Criminal Code. But hundreds of women and girls have nevertheless been imprisoned after being convicted of "immorality" by courts dominated by religious conservatives.

In some rural areas, where Taliban militants exert considerable influence, residents often view government bodies as corrupt or unreliable and turn to Taliban courts to settle disputes.

The Taliban courts employ strict interpretations of Shari'a law, which prescribes death, or in other cases public flogging, for men or women found guilty of having a relationship outside marriage.

The woman's own family is often behind the punishments, in some cases shunning the woman or handing her over to authorities for prosecution. In the worst cases, the woman's own relatives can carry out the killings.

Spate Of Chilling Punishments

Fateha's story is all too common in Afghanistan, where violence against women is widespread.

Despite women making significant inroads since the end of Taliban rule in 2001, domestic abuse remains routine and forced marriages are the norm.

In recent years, there has been a spate of chilling public punishments of Afghan women accused of moral crimes.

In October 2015, 19-year-old Rokhsana was stoned to death by Taliban militants in the central province of Ghor after having been accused of having premarital sex.

In November 2015, a 26-year-old Afghan woman died of her injuries after being publicly lashed, also in Ghor. She had been accused of running away from home.

And in August 2016, also in Ghor Province, a young man and woman found guilty of having sex outside marriage were publicly lashed.

Mykola Semena has been charged with separatism and may be sentenced to five years in prison if convicted of separatism based on an article he wrote on his blog that was critical of Moscow's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

More than two dozen human rights groups have expressed "outrage" over the impending trial of Ukrainian journalist Mykola Semena, an RFE/RL contributor who has angered Moscow over his reporting in the Russian-controlled Ukrainian region of Crimea.

"The Russian government is preparing new act of political retaliation against those who dare to criticize Russian actions on the Crimean Peninsula, which was seized by Russia in 2014 and violated international law," the Civic Solidarity Platform (CSP), which unites 27 human rights groups, said on February 16.

Semena's lawyer, Andrei Sabinin, said on February 14 that preliminary hearings into the case will be held by the Zaliznychnyy district court in Crimea's capital, Simferopol, on February 17.

The journalist's other lawyer, Emil Kurbedinov, told RFE/RL on February 8 that the actual trial for Semena will start on February 28.

Semena was detained in April and then released but ordered not to leave the peninsula. He was charged with separatism and may be sentenced to five years in prison if convicted of separatism based on an article he wrote on his blog that was critical of Moscow's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Semena was given a final version of the charges in December and was served on January 20 with the closing indictment in his case, a detailed document that includes descriptions of evidence, the names of prosecution witnesses, and other information.

Semena denies the charges.

The United States, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and international media watchdogs have expressed concern over Semena's case, which activists say is part of a Russian clampdown on independent media and dissent in Crimea.

Human rights advocates say Russia and the authorities Moscow has imposed in Crimea have conducted a persistent campaign of oppression targeting opponents of the annexation, including many among the region's indigenous Crimean Tatars, as well as independent media outlets and journalists.

"Civic Solidarity Platform is outraged by the cruelty of measures taken by the Russian government against those who peacefully express opposition to its politics in the Crimea." the group said in a statement.

It added that members of the CSP "are expressing their support and solidarity with Mykola Semena" and have urged the international community to "strongly and clearly oppose the repressive actions of the Russian Federation in Crimea.”

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said in January that the charges against Semena were "part of a concerted effort by Russian and Russian-backed authorities to obstruct RFE/RL's journalistic mission to provide an independent press to residents of Crimea."

Russia seized control of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, after sending in troops to secure key facilities and staging a referendum dismissed as illegitimate by Ukraine, the United States, and more than 100 countries in the UN General Assembly.

With reporting by UNIAN and TASS

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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