Young Afghan Lovers Lynched By Armed Mob In Latest Horrific 'Honor' Killing

Brutal punishments often await Afghan women and girls who have relationships with men outside marriage -- including public floggings, prison, and even death by stoning.

One young Afghan woman who is believed to have broken that social norm paid the ultimate price last weekend when an armed mob that police say included her own family members stormed a police station, hauled her and the man she had eloped with outside, and killed them.

The gruesome incident is 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.

Police say Fateha, an 18-year-old woman who had been forced by her family to marry a man against her wishes, was detained by local authorities on February 11 along with her lover, Hedayatullah, 19, in the Wama district of the remote eastern province of Nuristan as they attempted to run away together.

Later that day, a mob consisting of hundreds of people who police say included Fateha's husband, father, brothers, and cousins stormed the police station where she was being held. The mob, which killed one police officer and wounded several others, dragged Fateha and Hedayatullah outside, where they were beaten. Police say Fateha was then shot and killed by her brother, while Fateha's husband shot and killed the young man later in the village of Sar-e-Pul.

Authorities said on February 16 that they have issued arrest warrants for the husband of the slain woman and her brother.

'Immoral Acts'

In comments to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Hafiz Abdul Qayum, the governor of Nuristan, said the couple had run away from their families when they were detained by police on suspicion of committing "immoral acts."

He at first denied that more could have been done to save the couple, suggesting that the police station was manned by only 30 officers and that they were outnumbered and outgunned by the mob. He claims there would have been a bloodbath had police intervened more forcefully.

"The number of police present was small and they were confronted by a group of 500 people, some of whom were armed," says Qayum, before later saying that the police had acted improperly by not doing more to save the lives of the young couple.

So-called moral offenses, including adultery or even running away from home, are not considered crimes according to 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 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 Chilling Punishments

Fateha'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 marriages are the norm.

In recent years, there has been a spate of chilling public punishments of Afghan women accused of moral crimes.

In October 2015, 19-year-old Rokhsana was stoned to death by Taliban militants in the central province of Ghor after having been 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.