Pakistan: The SKSW Campaign denounces the flogging of woman in Swat

The Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women! urges the government of Pakistan to bring to justice the perpetrators of the flogging of a young woman in Swat.
On April 3, 2009 a shocking video portraying a 17-year-old woman being publically flogged by Taliban militants in the Swat region of Pakistan was aired on Pakistani television. The video showed two men restraining a young woman while a third man whips her 34 times. She screams and begs for mercy as a large male-only crowd looks on. Reportedly, one of the men was her brother.
The woman received no trial before her punishment. In response, Muslim Khan, spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in Swat, has shifted his position from initially stating that had a qazi (judge) been in charge, she would have been stoned to death, to contesting whether the incident happened prior to a government deal with the Taliban (currently awaiting the President’s signature for implementation), to denying the incident ever took place and claiming this was a ‘conspiracy’ by western NGOs. The Supreme Court did take suo motto notice and asked for the woman to be produced in court, but she did not appear and she and the family now deny the incident ever took place. While the Supreme Court has asked for fortnightly updates, we fear the case will be buried.

Hence, the Global Campaign, Stop Killing and Stoning Women! urges the United Nations to investigate this serious infringement of International Human Rights Law and the international community to send a clear message that it is unacceptable for women to be tortured, either in private or in public, while the fact that this flogging was witnessed by many, implicitly legitimizing it, is in grave breach of national and international laws. Reports from the region suggest that violence against women, including other incidences of public floggings, is increasingly common. We also request the United Nations to take note of the draft ‘peace’ deal the Government of Pakistan is entering into with the Taliban in Swat which denies women (and men) their rights under the constitution and will, we fear, open the gates to even greater injustices.

The video has caused public outrage in Pakistan and women’s and other civil society groups have demonstrated against this act of torture. “This is not just about flogging. It is a warning of what could be in store for all of us,” prominent human rights activist Asma Jahangir told the media in Lahore where she participated - along with hundreds of others - in a protest rally. The National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) and some women’s organizations held a press conference in Karachi on 4 April, and denounced the act, declaring that “the women of Pakistan will not allow Pakistan to be turned into [Taliban-held] Afghanistan”. The Women’s Action Forum, Karachi, at its meeting on 4 April, demanded that no accord be made with the Taliban of Swat. President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani have condemned the incident and ordered the perpetrators to be arrested. The newly reinstated Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry took suo moto notice and called an emergency hearing on 6 April, 2009.

The victim, Chaand Bibi, did not appear in court despite an order demanding her presence. Ms. Chaand Bibi has denied being the woman in the video; but human rights activists say she may have been influenced in her decision to issue such a denial. The court directed the interior secretary, the Inspector General of the Police (IGP) of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the NWFP Chief Secretary to prepare a detailed report on the flogging, and adjourned the hearing. The NWFP IGP drew the court’s attention to the fact that the police have no access to several areas in Swat. Peshawar High Court Bar Association president, Latif Afridi, also brought the seriousness of the situation to the court’s notice: “There is no writ of the government and the fundamental rights of the people are violated every day. People are being evicted from their homes, their houses are looted, courts are closed and lawyers are being killed,” he said, adding that 300 schools had been destroyed in the area, and policemen were deserting.

The Pakistani government has lost almost all political control in Swat. Indeed, in March 2009, President Zardari agreed to the demands of fundamentalist cleric Sufi Muhammad Khan of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz e Shariah-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) by sanctioning Muslim laws to be applied in the entire Malakand division including Swat. The spokesman for the Taliban, Muslim Khan, defended the flogging as appropriate punishment under Islamic law, and later said the video was a fake and meant to undermine the peace accord. A number of prominent Islamic scholars and many ordinary citizens of Pakistan appeared on television throughout the day to challenge any religious or legal validation of the act of violence.

The Global Campaign, Stop Killing and Stoning Women! urges the government of Pakistan to thoroughly investigate this grave incidence of violence – which is only the latest of many such attacks on women in Swat – and to bring to justice the perpetrators. No excuse or justification for violence against women should be condoned in the name of religion, culture or tradition. Governments must not enact peace deals with violent militant groups such as the Taliban, which will only serve to lend legitimacy to their brutal, and un-Islamic, punishments of women. When unpunished, such wanton acts of cruelty encourage further acts of violence. This is evident in the subsequent killing of three women NGO workers along with their driver on Monday 6th April 2009 in the Mansera district, and the threatened intent to kill 10 women NGO workers associated with Samar Minullah (who circulated the video to the press); this threat was printed in local newspapers in Peshawar on April 8th.

Similar cases of women being subjected to flogging for perceived sexual transgressions in Saudi Arabia and Iran have attracted strong and widespread condemnation from international bodies; such inhumane, extra-judicial punishments of its citizens is a serious indictment of any state that is a signatory to international laws. We urge the government of Pakistan to uphold its international obligations to defend the human rights of its citizens. Pakistan is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). We further urge the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on Violence against Women to conduct their own investigation into this serious incident.