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Taliban leader announces return of executions and amputation of hands

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The Taliban have shifted slightly in their views on what is and is not allowed. But cutting off hands will soon be standard again, announces Mullah Nooruddin Turabi

He is one of the founders of the Taliban, and he led the religious police the last time the movement was in power. Mullah Nooruddin Turabi was therefore also primarily responsible for the very strict

interpretation of Islamic law. In an interview with the Associated Press (AP) news agency, Turabi says that the Taliban will cut off hands again. But maybe not in public anymore.

He has little understanding of the indignation that such punishments have provoked in the past. “Everyone criticized us for that, but we never said anything about the laws of others. We follow Islam and base our laws on the Quran.”

Since the Taliban took power in Kabul on August 15, everyone in Afghanistan and beyond wonders whether the harsh laws and punishments of the 1990s will return. At the time, executions took place in front of the public in a stadium in Kabul, or in the large Eid Gah mosque. Murderers were executed by the victim’s family, who also had the option to accept “blood money” and let the convict live. Thieves had their hands chopped off, people convicted of street robberies had their hands and feet amputated.

public humiliation

Justice took place behind closed doors, and was often administered by Islamic scribes, not by legally trained judges. This time, ordinary judges do play a role in the administration of justice, Turabi says, and female judges may also be included. But the basis of the law remains unabated by the Qur’an, and the same punishments as then will be imposed.

“Chopping off hands is necessary for safety,” Turabi said, pointing out the “deterrent effect.” Asked whether that sentence will again be carried out in public, he says that the government is currently considering this and is ‘developing a policy’.

In recent days, a punishment that was already commonplace in the 1990s was carried out in Kabul: the public humiliation of petty criminals. On at least two occasions, men were driven through Kabul on the back of a pickup truck to shame them. Sometimes their hands were tied and their faces smeared with paint to identify them as thieves, other times they had stale bread hung around their necks or stuffed into their mouths.

Turabi has become milder

However, this time the Taliban will do things differently than last time. “We have changed,” Turabi says. He says that television, mobile phones, photos and video will continue to be allowed. “Because people need it, and we take that seriously.” The Taliban will also use such media to spread their message, he suggests. “Now we can reach millions of people at once, instead of hundreds.”

In the 1990s, Turabi was known as one of the most avid enforcers of the law. He was notorious for personally snatching music tapes from car radios and making garlands of them in trees and road signs. Men who trimmed their beards were beaten by the religious police.

One of Turabi’s first exploits after the Taliban took power in 1996 was to yell at a female journalist at a press conference, demand that she leave the room, and punch a man who objected in the face. Turabi gave this week’s interview to a female journalist.

Turabi, now 60 and in charge of the prison system in the new government, may have moved slightly in his views on women and technological progress, but he is far from criticizing the way the Taliban ran the country in the 1990s. The Taliban administration provided stability for the first time in the country, he says. “Every part of the country was safe.”

The residents of Kabul express fear about their new drivers, but are reluctant to admit that the streets have become safer in the past month. Some retailers tell AP they can now keep their store open after dark. Before the Taliban took power, gangs of thieves roamed the streets at night and most people stayed indoors.

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