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The New York Times, 4 April 2009
Video of Taliban Flogging Rattles Pakistan
By Salman Mahood
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The video shows a young woman held face down as a Taliban commander whips her repeatedly with a leather strap. "Leave me for the moment -- you can beat me again later," she screams, pleading for a reprieve and writhing in pain.
Paying no heed, the commander orders those holding her to tighten their grip and continues the public flogging. A large group of men quietly stands and watches in a circle around her.
The woman in the video is a 17-year-old resident of Kabal, in the restive Swat region in northwestern Pakistan. The images, which have been broadcast repeatedly by private television news networks in Pakistan, have caused outrage here and set off bitter condemnation by rights activists and politicians.
They have also raised questions once again about the government's decision to enter into a peace deal in February that effectively ceded Swat to the Taliban and allowed them to impose Islamic law.
The two-minute video is the first known case of a public flogging of a woman in Swat. Apparently shot on a cellphone and widely circulated in the picturesque valley, it demonstrates vividly how the Taliban have used public displays of punishment to terrify and control the local population.
It was not clear what the young woman was accused of.
One account said she had stepped out of her house without being escorted by a male family member, according to Samar Minallah, a rights activist. Ms. Minallah said she distributed the video to local news outlets after it was sent to her by someone from Swat three days ago.
Another account said a local Taliban commander had falsely accused the teenager of violating Islamic law after she refused to accept his marriage proposal.
A Taliban spokesman defended the punishment to the Geo Television Network but said it should not have been done in public.
Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister of North-West Frontier Province, where Swat is located, also tried to play down the flogging by claiming that the video was recorded in January, before the peace agreement. He called it an attempt to sabotage the peace agreement.
Not many seemed willing to countenance the argument.
"This is absurd," Athar Minallah, a lawyer who campaigned for the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, said in a telephone interview. "No one can give justification for such an act. These handful of people have taken the population hostage, and the government is trying to patronize them. If the state surrenders, what will happen next?"
Asma Jahangir, one of the country's leading rights activists, condemned the flogging as "intolerable."
"This is an eye-opener," she said in a televised news briefing in Lahore. "Terrorism has seeped into every corner of the country. It is time that every patriotic Pakistani should raise a voice against such atrocities."
She said she would join other rights activists and citizens in a rally against terrorism on Saturday in Lahore, where militants stormed a police academy this week.
"It will be a peaceful march to show that the people of Lahore will not stay silent," she said.
Jugnu Mohsin, a peace activist and publisher of Friday Times, the country's most popular weekly newspaper, blamed the military for allowing the Taliban to gain strength and giving the militants a free hand to commit such atrocities.
Ms. Mohsin said she had received threats from Islamic extremists.
"I know that the federal and provincial governments are innocent victims and bystanders," she said. "The military has handed over the ownership and refuses to fight."
In February, after 20 months of losing battles against the Taliban in Swat, the government and the military accepted a peace deal and the establishment of Islamic courts in the region.
In return, Maulana Fazlullah, the leader of the Taliban in Swat, pledged to lay down the weapons and end the violence.
Those who opposed the deal said it would strengthen the militants and give them time to regroup and tighten their control in Swat.
The government said the agreement would end the violence.
Hundreds of schools have been destroyed in Swat, several government officials beheaded and education of girls banned under the Taliban.
Both President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani condemned the flogging and ordered an investigation.
Taking notice of the video, Mr. Chaudhry formed an eight-judge panel in the Supreme Court to examine the case, a news release by the Pakistani court said.
The justice ordered the interior secretary to bring the young woman before the court on Monday.
Sherry Rehman, the former information minister and a member of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, demanded immediate action by the government.
"Ignoring such acts of violence amounts to sanctioning impunity," Ms. Rehman said in a statement. "The fire in the Swat Valley and our northern regions can engulf other parts of the country, if we do nothing to put it out."
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
RELATED VIDEO CLIP
Associated Press video report, April 2009 (1 min 4 secs) summarising the above news story. Includes the cellphone video of the young woman being flogged. Taliban officials are seen justifying the punishment. A local human rights activist condemns the flogging.
HERE IS THE CLIP:
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