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Audio clip from Taliban leader addresses stoning of Afghan women

In audio clips circulated online in March, the Taliban’s Supreme Leader emphasised the strict implementation of Sharia punishments and spoke of harsher punishments for women.


30 Apr 2024

Photo: © Afghan Witness On 24 March 2024, an audio clip attributed to Taliban Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada surfaced on X (formerly Twitter). The 3:54-minute audio clip was posted by the Taliban-run Radio Television of Afghanistan (RTA) radio branch. In the clip, Akhundzada stresses that Sharia punishments will continue to be implemented in Afghanistan, and notes that harsher punishments for women will be forthcoming. 

That same day, RTA Deputy Director General Hedayatullah Hedayat also posted the clip. Both sources later deleted the clip, amid condemnation and a backlash by Afghan politicians, human rights defenders, and women’s rights groups.


Afghan Witness (AW) analysts discovered another version of the audio, 3:47 minutes in length, shared by a YouTube channel belonging to the Taliban’s Spokesperson for the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE), Hafiz Ziaullah Hashemi, on 23 March 2024. Hashemi also posted part of the audio on X. Unlike Hedayat and RTA radio, he has not deleted it. RTA radio, Hedayat, and Hashemi all referred to Akhundzada’s speech in the audio recording as the most recent remarks made by the Taliban leader.


Although there is overlap between the two audio clips, the clip shared by Hashemi contains more of Akhundzada’s speech, whereas the RTA clip includes commentaries by a reporter and religious scholar.


In the clip shared by RTA Radio, and archived by AW investigators, Akhundzada says:


Our message to the West is that we have fought against you for 20 years and will fight against you for another 20 years or more. This war does not end here. We aim to establish the religion of Allah and implement Sharia on this land. It does not end with merely controlling Kabul and the provinces. No, that is not our goal. We would now implement Sharia in practice. We are implementing Allah's Hudud [punishments mandated by God]. We will publicly implement Rajm (stoning) of women for adultery. We will implement public lashing for adultery. All such actions conflict with your democracy, and you will be fighting against each of them. Just as you claim to be liberating humanity, so am I. I represent Allah, but you represent Satan. But the party of Allah will prevail.”


After commentary by an RTA reporter, Akhundzada’s remarks continue:


You (the West) use women as animals. You don’t differentiate between a woman and an animal. Is this the right you (the West) want for women? Is this humanity and human rights that the West defines?  Ulema will stand against the West. Ulema will stand against their democracy. It was Ulama who buried their democracy in the earth. It was the scholars who sank the ship of the West here. Mujahidin, who made sacrifices yesterday, continue to make sacrifices today.”


AW could not provide a link to the audio clip shared by RTA Radio, as it was deleted. However, a screenshot of the post that included the recording is available, as seen below on the top. The screenshot features the image of the audio clip, shared by RTA Radio, which clearly shows the RTA radio logo, and that it was part of a radio report. On the bottom is a screenshot of Hedayat’s post, which was also deleted.

Figure: Screenshot of RTA Radio’s report on remarks of the Taliban leader, regarding harsher punishment of women in public (top), and screenshot of the post by Deputy Director General of RTA Hedayatullah Hedayat (bottom).


The other version of the audio, which was shared by MoHE Spokesman Hashemi, includes the end of Akhundzada’s speech:


Just as you claim to be liberating humanity, so do I. You represent Satan, but I represent Allah. Allah says: party of Allah will prevail. [he refers to Quran Ayat:فَإِنَّ حِزْبَ اللّهِ هُمُ الْغَالِبُون  ]. The party of Allah will invite people to believe in/worship Allah, but the party of Satan/tyrant will invite people to paganism, democracy and Westernism. You should note that we will worship Allah until he comes to our death. We will defend this religion (Islam) until they come to our death.The revolution came, and the infidels were defeated. What is important is to adhere to this religion and belief (Islam) and continue to safeguard it. The world is striving to steal this treasure (religion of Islam) from you and have control/influence over your mind. Be mindful and continue to resist. All eyes are on you …”


Pro-Taliban accounts posted both audio clips, using the same captions used in the original posts. The RTA Radio version of the audio was posted and reposted by pro-Taliban accounts on 24 March 2024 and read: “His Highness Amir al-Mu'minin said in his latest statement that after the fight against the West in Afghanistan and their defeat, we would continue our fight to implement the Sharia Hudud and enforce the religion and Sharia of Allah. Amir al-Mu'minin has called on the Westerners that although we have fought with you for 20 years to bring Sharia, this struggle does not end here.”


AW observed pro-Taliban accounts sharing the other version of the audio clip, initially shared by Hashemi, on 23 March 2024, with the short caption that read: “The Speech of His Highness Amir al-Mu'minin. Topic: Women’s rights”


Meanwhile, claims circulated on X that Akhundzada’s remarks were not new. On 24 March 2024, Afghan journalist Sami Yousafzai asserted that the speech was not new. During a podcast hosted by the Independent Urdu, Yousafzai reaffirmed this position. In the same podcast, however, prominent journalist Tahir Khan contended that the Supreme Leader’s remarks were made recently.


AW assesses that the voice in the clip matches the previously disseminated recordings attributed to Akhundzada. Moreover, credible sources confirmed to AW that the audio was from an address Akhundzada gave to a seminary gathering in Kandahar in November or December 2023. Despite this, AW note that no audio clips from these remarks were previously posted or leaked online.


Anti-Taliban and ISKP reactions


Akhundzada’s remarks, and his emphasis on the implementation of harsher public punishments for women, triggered condemnation from politicians, women’s rights advocates, and human rights defenders. On 24 March 2024, former Head of the Afghan National Security Directorate Rahmatullah Nabil wrote on X that Akhundzada’s remarks convey a message to the world, that despite the efforts to reform and influence the Taliban with foreign aid, the Taliban’s fundamental antagonism towards the basic human rights remains unchanged. Activist and female protester Tamana Paryani wrote on 25 March 2024: “ You heard the words of the Taliban leader in the media today; we heard and experienced them in prison for nearly a month. This is what the Taliban is, and they will not change.”


Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) – an offshoot of IS –  responded to the remarks by accusing the Taliban’s Supreme Leader of making empty promises.


In a 16-page booklet, as well as through Telegram channels, the ISKP alleges that the Taliban Leader's promises to implement Sharia punishments were attempts to deceive followers. They claim that Akhundzada’s remarks were deleted from official Taliban accounts due to international pressure to maintain aid from the international community.

Figure: Screenshot of the booklet titled  “Colonel Hebat Deceives People with Repeated Promises of Bringing Sharia,” released by Al-Azaim media on 27 March 2024


Uptick in Sharia punishments of women 


Fourteen Sharia punishments were announced by the Taliban Supreme Court on X between 21 February 2024 and 20 March 2024. This is nearly triple the figure observed between 21 January 2024 and 20 February 2024, when just five punishments were announced. More recently, between 24 March 2024 and 4 April 2024, the Supreme Court implemented 12 punishment sentences on 29 individuals.


The Taliban have reportedly publicly punished 70 women since the first punishment was announced by the Supreme Court on 26 October 2022. However, punishments implemented against women have all been lashings, with no Hudud or Qisas* punishments reported to date. The Supreme Court does not always provide a gender breakdown regarding those being punished. However, based on an analysis of the data where this information was available, AW determined the crimes that Afghan women have been convicted of, and publicly punished for, include adultery, illicit relationships, immorality, and running away.

The Taliban’s overhaul of Afghanistan’s justice system 


Following their takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban replaced the former Afghan judiciary with their own system, in which only Taliban-approved male lawyers can appear in courts. Moreover, these lawyers are required to be loyal to the state and their rigid interpretation of Sharia Law. Under the Taliban, female lawyers, prosecutors and judges have all been banned.


Taliban courts consist of one judge, one mufti, or Islamic jurist, and a clerk in each department where judgements are made, based on Majjallah Al-Ahkam, a collection of jurisprudential rules and issues based on the Quran and Hanafi jurisprudence.


Under Taliban rule, there have been reports that judges have refused to listen to or see women, and that women are not allowed to appear in courts without their male guardians. Despite this, the Taliban claim that courts have been ordered to address women’s cases without any discrimination, based on a decree issued by the Supreme Leader in December 2021. At the time of writing, it remains unclear how the Supreme Leader’s latest remarks, shared online on 23 and 24 March 2024, will impact women accused of criminal activity in Afghanistan. However, they will likely further exacerbate the bleak outlook on women’s rights in the country.

*Hudud refers to fixed Islamic punishments for specific offences, while Qisas refers to the principle of retaliation or equal punishment for crimes in Islamic law. There is a significant evidentiary burden that must be met in order to implement Hudud punishments. See AW’s previous report on public punishments in Afghanistan. 

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