Bring Flogging Victim to Justice

The video footage of a 17-year-old girl being held down by men and publicly flogged in Swat makes for extremely disturbing viewing. The incident that was aired by a leading news channel in Pakistan has sparked outrage across the country, leading to the reinstated Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, to conduct a suo motu hearing of 
the incident.

The incident is also being perceived as an attempt to sabotage the peace agreement with the Swat Taleban that was to result in the implementation of Shariah laws in the region. The highly controversial deal, that faced severe international criticism, was brokered by the NWFP provincial government headed by the secular Awami National Party, in a desperate attempt to secure some stability in the Swat valley. Conflicting reports about the timings of the incident, as well as allegations, of what prompted the punishment vary far and wide. Human right activists in the area confirm the authenticity of the incident, and have alleged that the NWFP government has been lying, fearing the impact it may have on their agreements with the Taleban.

At the same time, in a testimony to a judge and the commissioner of Malakand, the victim of the incident, Chand Bibi, and her husband Adalat Khan -- with whom she was accused of having illicit relations, before they were forcibly married by the Taleban — have both denied the flogging incident and the subsequent forced marriage.

The testimony of the victim is being perceived as one that has been extracted under coercion and intimidation, not just by the Taleban but also by the NWFP government. The incident, one of the scores such, have been occurring regularly against women, including beheadings on suspicion of immoral activities. It highlights the injustices that are being carried out in the name of Islam. Under what Islamic law can a woman be physically handled by namahram (non-blood relatives), and publicly humiliated and beaten, without undergoing a proper trial based on eyewitness accounts.

The provincial government should also be mindful of the implications of the deal they have entered into with the Taleban, considering that it is perceived to be a desperate attempt from a defeatist position. It also brings to fore the implications arising from the lack of administrative and judicial system in the region that has had a debilitating effect on the people in the region. The activities of the Taleban in Swat, and elsewhere, have only managed to terrorise people as well as bring a bad name to Islam, something that must be redressed. It remains to be seen how the perpetrators of this incident, and countless others that go unaccounted, are dealt with by the government.

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