On Saturday, September 25, the Taliban executed four people for alleged kidnapping and strung up their bodies in crowded parts of Herat, western Afghanistan. Thousands of residents have since had to pass the corpses while navigating the city. The shocking display was reminiscent of the previous years of Taliban rule, when citizens were regularly put to death in public without trial. In those days, Herat Sports Stadium was a notorious execution ground.
Some Afghans now fear that public executions under the banner of the Taliban will again become commonplace, as they have been in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Unlike in Iran, a whole generation is now experiencing such things before their very eyes for the first time.
Many passersby in Herat were shocked and sickened by the four bodies hanging from cranes driven into their city on Saturday. The men’s identities were not widely known, nor were the details of the case against them. Younger people had never encountered a public execution before. Of course, some other Herat citizens – outwardly at least – appeared to welcome the move, and even took selfies under the corpses.
Molavi Shirahmad Ammar, the Taliban’s new deputy governor in Herat, told IranWire that the four were understood to have abducted “an investor” and his son, at around 9.45am that same Saturday in the Darb-e Malek area of Herat. But the operation failed, he said, as the perpetrators were then arrested at a Taliban checkpoint.
He went on to say that the four had been executed by firing squad and subsequently hung from cranes says the four were executed by gunfire from Taliban fighters and subsequently hung from cranes at the busy intersections of Mostofit, Darb-e Malik, Darb-e Iraq and Chowk-e Golha, ostensibly as a lesson to other would-be criminals.
"I assure the people of Herat that we will not allow those who cause insecurity to live,” he said. “There has been another, prior case of kidnapping in Herat in which one kidnapper was killed by a police chief and two others were detained. These four who were killed today have been hanged as a lesson to others, so that they won’t disturb the people."
For many people in Herat, however, the big question remains why no such information was released by the authorities, and why not a shred of evidence supporting Shirahmad Ammar’s account has been shared by the Taliban. The alleged victims have also not testified in public.
Kidnapping is far from unheard of in Herat, however, and has been a known issue for more than a decade. Herat is an economic hub of Afghanistan, home to thousands of craftsmen, manufacturers and investors, and the former government had repeatedly called for a serious crackdown on the practice.
Afghans in the streets were divided on whether publicly executing the alleged perpetrators was the right way to respond. Thirty-year-old Herat resident Mohammad Ali, who came to watch the hanging at Mostofit, was emphatic: "If the government execute four more people, then the crimes and theft will disappear. When a thief and a drug addict are executed, security will be provided." Hamidollah Khadem, head of the Herat Chamber of Industries and Mines, also told IranWire he welcomed the new approach.
Others, however, were appalled, and saw it as part of a process of sensitising society to violence. Herat-based civil activist Farshad Mohammadi told IranWire: "The Taliban are showing a violent face; showing that they will never abide by the values of human rights, and that we will continue to see such illegal acts by the Taliban in the future."
Writer Aziz Nikouyar also said he was deeply troubled by the lack of due process. “Determining whether the accused committed a crime must be done by a transparent and competent court, in the presence of a judge, lawyers, evidence. The punishment must also be determined by a competent court. Field trials, and displaying corpses in public, are totally inappropriate, and against both the rules and human values.”
The four executions came shortly after Nuroddin Torabi, the Taliban’s new head of the prisons administration, told the Associated Press that both executions and amputations of convicts in Afghanistan would resume “as a deterrent”. At that time, he said, the new cabinet was still deliberating over whether to carry out such punishments in public.
This article was written by a citizen journalist under a pseudonym.