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Eye-for-an-eye sharia justice returns to Afghan courts

Under eye-for-eye sharia punishments, officially ordered by the Taliban's supreme leader for the first time last month, he faces public execution -- with the sentence to be carried out by a relative of his victim.

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Kneeling in front of a turbanned judge in a tiny room at the Ghazni Court of Appeal in eastern Afghanistan, an old man sentenced to death for murder pleads for his life.

The 75-year-old admits to having shot dead a relative — out of revenge, he says, because of rumours he had sexual relations with his daughter-in-law.

Under eye-for-eye sharia punishments, officially ordered by the Taliban’s supreme leader for the first time last month, he faces public execution — with the sentence to be carried out by a relative of his victim.

Read more: Taliban again resurfaces in Pakistan’s borderlands

“We have made peace between the families,” the old man pleads.

“I have witnesses who can prove that we have agreed on compensation.”

AFP had rare access to a court in Ghazni to see how sharia justice is being administered since the Taliban returned to power in August last year.

Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent building a new judicial system after the Taliban were overthrown in 2001 — a combination of Islamic and secular law, with qualified prosecutors, defence lawyers and judges.

Many women were recruited into the system, overseeing cases involving hardcore Taliban militants as well as bringing more gender balance to family courts.

All that has been scrapped by the Taliban, with trials, sentences and punishments now overseen by all-male clerics.

Islamic law, or sharia, acts as a code of living for Muslims worldwide, offering guidance on issues such as modesty, finance and crime. However, interpretations vary according to local custom, culture and religious school of thought.

Taliban scholars in Afghanistan have employed one of the most extreme interpretations of the code, including capital and corporal punishments little used by most modern Muslim states.

The difference between the system of the former government and today “is as big as the earth and the sky”, says Mohiuddin Umari, head of the Ghazni court, between sips of tea.

Read more: Taliban ban women from parks and funfairs in Afghan capital

– ‘God guides us’ –

Officials in Ghazni have shunned the use of its formal Western-style courtroom, and proceedings instead take place in a small side room, with participants sitting on a carpeted floor.

The cramped room, heated by an old wood stove, has a bunk bed in a corner, on which religious books and a Kalashnikov rifle are placed.

The young judge, Mohammad Mobin, listens impassively before asking a few questions.

He then orders another hearing in a few days — giving the old man time to gather witnesses who can testify that the families have agreed to what he says.

“If he proves his claim, then the judgement can be revised,” Mobin says.

Read more: Taliban govt face dramatic collapse in economy: UNDP

If not, “it is certain that the qisas (an eye-for-an-eye) enshrined in the sharia will apply”.

Mobin, surrounded by thin, hand-written files held together by string, has been at the appeals court since the Taliban’s return in August 2021.

He says around a dozen death sentences have been handed down in Ghazni province since then, but none has been carried out — partly because of the appeals process.