BADAKHSHAN, Afghanistan -- Afghan girls and women who have relationships with men outside marriage are often the target of brutal punishments -- including public floggings, prison, and even death.
One teenage girl who is believed to have broken that social norm paid the ultimate price this week when her brother killed her after she ran away from home with her boyfriend.
The shocking incident was 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.
'Stabbed To Death'
Police said Nazela, an 18-year-old woman, was strangled with electric wire and then stabbed to death in the Baharak district of the northeastern province of Badakhshan on May 1.
Noor Agha Naderi, the district governor of Baharak, told RFE/RL that the victim had rejected a marriage proposal to another man that had been arranged by her family.
Naderi said she ran away from home and took refuge at the district police headquarters with her boyfriend. But just two days later, her brother picked her up from the station and assured police that nothing would happen to her.
Within an hour, she was dead.
“Unfortunately, when she arrived home, her brother stabbed her to death,” said Naderi. “The brother fled to a Taliban-controlled area.”
Authorities believe the victim’s brother escaped to Jurm district, which is controlled by the Islamic militant group, making it difficult for law enforcement to apprehend him.
The Taliban controls and contests parts of Badakhshan, a remote, mountainous province bordering Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan.
Naderi said the police officials who released the victim, knowing that she was in danger, have been suspended and are under investigation.
Arefa Nawid, the head of the provincial office of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), blamed police for mishandling the case.
She said police should not have released the woman and instead should have transferred her to a women’s shelter.
“This happened because of [the police],” Nawid told RFE/RL.
The victim’s boyfriend has been placed under police protection.
So-called “moral offenses,” including adultery or even running away from home, are not considered crimes under 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 physical 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 Killings
Nazela’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 or arranged marriages are the norm.
In recent years, there has been a spate of chilling public punishments of Afghan women accused of moral crimes.
In 2019, the AIHRC recorded nearly 4,700 cases of violence against women in Afghanistan, an 8 percent increase compared to the previous year.
The AIHRC recorded the murders of 238 Afghan women in 2019, with 96 labeled as honor killings. This was a slight decrease compared to 2018. Often the murders are not reported and perpetrators go unpunished.
In May 2019, female journalist Mena Mangal was killed in the capital, Kabul, just days after getting a divorce from her abusive husband.
In 2017, an 18-year-old woman in the eastern province of Nuristan who had been forced by her family to marry a man against her wishes ran away with her boyfriend.
An armed mob stormed a police station where the couple had sought refuge and killed them.
In October 2015, 19-year-old Rokhsana was stoned to death by Taliban militants in the central province of Ghor after being 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.
Adultery has also resulted in several cases of women being stoned to death in areas controlled by the Taliban in recent years.