Taliban Won't Rule Out Cutting Off Hands as Punishment

The Taliban are offering promises of a regime that will differ from the one that controlled Afghanistan in the 1990s, but a spokesperson wouldn't rule out suspected thieves being punished by having their hands cut off.

After forcibly taking over the country last weekend, the Taliban held a press conference on Tuesday where they said the new Afghanistan will be freer than the one they previously ruled. There will be no retribution for those who held government positions or helped American forces, and women would be allowed to work and attend school, but it would all occur under the confines of Sharia, or Islamic law.

Under the harsh interpretation of Islamic law that the Taliban followed when governing in the 1990s, thieves and suspected thieves had their hands and feet cut off. This often occurred in public, and at times the severed body part would be paraded before a crowd.

When NPR reporter A Martinez asked Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesperson, if the punishment would be part of the Taliban's new rule, he left the door open to that possibility.

"I can say the Islamic rule is interpreted by the judges. Everyone has the right of defense. Then [the judge] can issue the ruling as per the Islamic law. So I have no comment on that," Shaheen said.

taliban cut off hands punishment
Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban, told NPR he couldn't comment on whether the Taliban will allow the cutting off of people's hands as punishment for crimes. Above, Shaheen attends the Intra Afghan Dialogue talks in the Qatari capital of Doha on July 7, 2019. Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images

The Taliban revived the punishment in the 2010s in areas they controlled. In July, Gul Rahim, a Taliban judge, told German newspaper Bild that he used the punishment in his latest cases. In the case of a man who broke into a house and stole a golden ring, Rahim said, he ordered that the man's hand be chopped off. Then, he said, he asked if the owner wanted the man's leg to be chopped off since he committed two crimes by breaking into the house and stealing the ring.

Taliban fighters took over Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, after little resistance, and their rise to power caused a chaotic rush of people to the airport in an attempt to flee the country. It resulted in the deaths of several people, who attempted to escape by clinging to the side of a U.S. military plane as it was taking off.

At Tuesday's press conference, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid offered promises that the Taliban, which is a U.S. state-sanctioned terrorist organization, had changed. He said embassies would have "complete security," private media would be "free and independent" and women would be working "shoulder to shoulder with us."

However, all of Mujahid's promises were couched in statements like "within the framework of Sharia" and "within our culture frameworks." This leaves the Taliban with the option of restricting freedoms, under their interpretation of Islamic law, that people had enjoyed before the organization's return to power.

Given the group's history and the disclaimers peppered throughout the press conference, many doubt that the Taliban's rule will be any different from its 1990s regime.

"For the time being—understandable given their past history—these declarations have been met with skepticism. There have been chilling reports of human rights abuses on the rights of individuals," Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said Tuesday.