ISLAMABAD — A couple have been sentenced to be stoned to death for alleged adultery in north west Pakistan by a tribal court, locals and officials said.
The man involved, Zarkat Khan, apparently managed to run away, while the woman is in the custody of the tribal court, according to local residents. The incident occurred in a remote area called Kala Dhaka, or Black Mountain, that is part of the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which runs adjacent to Afghanistan.
The death sentence, handed down in a Manjakot village last month, will be carried out once the man is found, said a member of the tribal court, known as a jirga which supposedly decided cases according to Islamic law. The two were married, but not to each other.
The woman, whose name is being withheld at the request of human rights groups, is now being kept prisoner in a nearby village, according to campaigners and several locals, though there are several conflicting stories about her whereabouts. She is believed to have three children.
"As usual, it is the woman who is made to bear the brunt of such atrocious barbarism, injustice, and inhuman, unIslamic sentences," said the Woman's Action Forum, a Pakistani non-governmental organization, in a statement. "Why is the provincial law enforcement system neither de jure nor de facto functional? Where are the women's protection mechanisms and institutions?"
Some locals believe the verdict will not be carried out, or, if it is, there will be some quicker form of execution.
"We burnt down the man's house, as per our tradition," said Maroof Khan, who allegedly sat on the jirga that decided the case, though he denied that. "When we get hold of them, we'll kill them, there's no doubt about that. It was a clear-cut case. This is our custom. We will just shoot them. Finished."
The case is more awkward for the Pakistani authorities as Kala Dhaka is inside the main territory of the country and not part of the wild Taliban-controlled tribal fringe that runs along the Afghan border. As an official tribal area, Kala Dhaka governs itself through the work of the jirga, where tribal elders gather to judge disputes and crimes, not under the normal law enforcement apparatus such as the police and courts, a system that goes back to British colonial times.
Kala Dhaka is run by its tribes but there is little or no Taliban presence there. The government has announced plans to make Kala Dhaka a regular "settled" district, which would officially take away the power of the jirga.
"This woman is most probably still in danger. She is literally like a slave right now. It's up to them (the jirga), they can do anything to her right now," said Samar Minallah, a women's rights activist. "In so many past cases, the woman was killed later on, or married off for a bride price. They just can't let her be, there has to be revenge.
The local government administration confirmed that the jirga had passed a verdict of stoning to death, or "sangsar" as it is known, but claimed that it had interceded and the couple were now in safe hands.
"Both are with relatives," said Tasleem Khan, the government administrator for Kala Dhaka. "The big jirga never happened, it was a smaller jirga. The verdict was stoning. But we intervened, called in the elders and nothing has happened to either (man or woman)."
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent based in Islamabad.)
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