GHAZNI: Kneeling before a turbaned judge in a tiny room at the appeals court in Ghazni, eastern Afghanistan, an elderly man sentenced to death for murder pleads for his life.
The 75-year-old confesses to having shot a loved one, in revenge, he says, because of rumors that he had sex with his stepdaughter.
Under eye-for-an-eye Shariah sanctions, 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.
“We have made peace between the families,” pleads the old man.
“I have witnesses who can prove that we agreed on compensation.”
AFP had rare access to a court in Ghazni to see how Sharia justice has been administered since the Taliban returned to power last August.
Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent to build a new judicial system after the Taliban was overthrown in 2001 – a combination of Islamic and secular laws, with trained prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges.
Many women have been recruited into the system, overseeing cases involving hardline Taliban militants and bringing greater gender balance to family courts.
All of this has been abandoned by the Taliban, with trials, sentencing and punishment now overseen by exclusively male clerics.
Islamic law, or Sharia, acts as a code of life for Muslims around the world, offering guidance on issues such as modesty, finances and crime. However, interpretations vary according to local customs, culture and religious school of thought.
Taliban scholars in Afghanistan have used one of the most extreme interpretations of the code, including capital punishment and corporal punishment little used by most modern Muslim states.
The difference between the system of the old government and that of today “is as big as the earth and the sky”, explains Mohiuddin Umari, head of the court of Ghazni, between two sips of tea.
Ghazni officials have shunned the use of its formal Western-style courtroom, and proceedings instead take place in a small side room, with participants seated on a carpeted floor.
The cramped room, heated by an old wood-burning stove, has a bunk bed in one corner, on which lie religious books and a Kalashnikov rifle.
The young judge Mohammad MobinI listen impassively before asking a few questions.
He then orders another hearing in a few days, which gives the old man time to gather witnesses who can testify that the families have accepted what he is saying.
“If he proves his claim, then the judgment can be reviewed,” Mobin said.
Otherwise, “it is certain that the qisas (eye for an eye) enshrined in Sharia will apply”.
Mobin, surrounded by thin handwritten records held together by string, has been in the appeals court since the Taliban returned in August 2021.
He says a dozen death sentences have been handed down in Ghazni province since then, but none have been carried out, in part because of the appeals process.
“It’s very difficult to make such a decision and we are very careful,” the 34-year-old told AFP.
“But if we have certain evidence, then God guides us and tells us not to have sympathy for these people.”
If the old man’s appeal fails, the case goes to the Supreme Court in Kabul, and finally to the Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzadawhich validates all capital punishments.
Such was the case earlier this month in the western town of Farah, when the Taliban carried out their first public execution since returning to power, an act widely condemned by rights groups. and foreign governments and organizations.
Ghazni court chief Umari insists the Sharia system is much better than the one it replaced, while admitting officials need more experience.
Afghanistan was ranked 177th out of 180 most corrupt states in 2021 by the NGO Transparency International and its courts were notorious for corruption, with cases stalled for years.
“The Islamic Emirate is being transparent,” Umari said, using the Taliban designation for Afghanistan.
Many Afghans say they prefer to go to Sharia courts for civil cases, arguing they are less prone to the corruption that plagued the system under the previous Western-backed government.
However, legal scholars argue that criminal cases are more prone to miscarriage under the new system.
“Some cases, if decided quickly, are better,” said a now unemployed prosecutor, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.
“But in most cases, speed leads to hasty decisions.”
Umari insists that all verdicts are carefully scrutinized, adding “if a judge has made a mistake, we investigate”.
But the elderly man from Ghazni who was sentenced to death says he had no lawyer and his appeal lasted less than 15 minutes.
“The court should not have sentenced me to death,” he said.
“I have been in prison for more than eight months. They (the family) have agreed to spare me,” he adds, clutching a rosary in his handcuffed hands.

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