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Forbidden Love And Execution Leaves Afghan Mullah Crying Foul

Students demonstrating in Kabul in May over violence against women.
It's a young woman's story of true love blocked by forced engagement, prompting a romantic nighttime escape with her beloved.

This is the tale that played out in the Afghan village of Kookchail, in the northern Badghis Province. And like many such cases in deeply conservative areas of the country, this one had a tragic ending.

On the eve of her forced wedding, Halima escaped with her boyfriend only to be tracked down days later and shot dead in a public execution.

The case led to a 17-year prison sentence against a local mullah seen in a video ordering Halima's execution.

But now the mullah, 35-year-old Mawlavi Abdul-Qayum, is preparing an appeal, arguing he has been left holding the bag while the real perpetrators of the crime run free.

A New Life Together

Halima had been secretly dating a young man from her neighborhood, but the girl's parents agreed that she would be married to another man against her wishes.

The date was set for a June wedding, but Halima and her boyfriend had other plans. They slipped out of the village to start a new life together someplace else.

This was unacceptable to the parents of the groom to be, says Abdul-Qayum, who demanded that he "punish the woman for running away with a stranger."

Punishment was delivered, as evidenced by a video of her trial and execution that was handed over to the provincial Women's Affairs Department.

The video, viewed by an RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent in the region, shows the mullah addressing a large crowd as a burqa-clad woman sits on the ground with two men pointing guns at her.

Shortly after the mullah concludes his speech, the two men shoot the woman several times as cries and chants of "God is great" ring out. While the audio is barely audible, the authorities insist Abdul-Qayum denounced Halima's deeds and ordered her execution.

The mullah, however, denies responsibility for the killing, and says he is being made a "scapegoat" in the case.

A woman who spent two years in prison for running away from an abusive husband sits for a portrait in a Kabul shelter for women.
A woman who spent two years in prison for running away from an abusive husband sits for a portrait in a Kabul shelter for women.
"It was the family's decision [to punish her] but now it is being blamed on a religious fatwa," Abdul-Qayum says. "Several religious figures pointed out that this case should be referred to the authorities. I also mentioned in my speech that a judge and government should make the decision. People carried out this [killing] nevertheless. They should answer for this."

As Badghis police continue to look for the two men who carried out the killing, Abdul-Qayum is appealing to a higher court. He says a ruling is expected in a few weeks.

Provincial Governor Ahmadullah Alizai stands by the original decision, describing the mullah's trial and conviction as a "remarkable act to show how we are committed to the elimination of violence against women."

Alizai has vowed to make sure everyone involved in this "extremely tragic case" is brought to justice.

'Just And Correct'

And others familiar with Afghan law say the mullah's sentence is on firm legal ground.

Nasrullah Stanikzai, a law professor at Kabul University, says the Badghis court's decision was "just and correct."

"According to Islamic law as well as Afghan law, only the courts have the right to try a person," Stankizai notes. "No one else has such rights. When a court sentences someone to death, it has to go to two other higher courts and then has to be approved and signed by the president before the sentence is carried out. And then the sentence has to be carried out in a prison facility, and not by a judge, or a mullah, or some other religious figure."

READ NEXT: Honor-Killing Case Raises Fears For Women's Rights In Afghanistan

Women's rights activists say violence against women is widespread in Badghis Province and elsewhere in Afghanistan. The majority of the cases, however, go unreported and perpetrators, unpunished.

In this case, the fate of Halima's boyfriend remains unknown. Some villagers say he managed to escape to a foreign country. Halima's parents were not available for comment and local authorities say all the families involved have been keeping a low profile since the tragic incident.

Written and reported by RFE/RL correspondent Farangis Najibullah, with additional reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Shapur Saber in Badghis Province
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    Shahpoor Saber

    Shahpoor Saber is a correspondent for RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the region’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.