Video shows Taliban flogging girl
Footage from Pakistan sparks outrage, protest
ISLAMABAD - Face down before a crowd, the teenage girl shrieks and writhes, begging for mercy. But the three masked men holding her down merely tighten their grip while a fourth man whips her again and again.
The video of a 17-year-old girl being flogged publicly by the Taliban in Pakistan's Swat Valley has galvanized the nation, drawing protests from human rights groups, denunciations from the central government, and expressions of revulsion from Pakistanis.
The video, shot earlier this year, surfaced yesterday on Pakistani television stations and the Internet.
While reports of abusive acts by the Taliban for months have filtered out of the northwestern valley, where the government in February struck a truce with Islamic militants, such brutal scenes are rarely captured on camera and publicly aired.
"This is intolerable," Asma Jahangir, head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told journalists in the eastern city of Lahore.
Jahangir said the girl was believed to have refused to marry a Taliban commander. The militants then accused her of immoral behavior and ordered 34 lashes as a punishment, Pakistani news reports said.
US officials have criticized Pakistan for agreeing to a series of usually short-lived peace deals with militants, arguing that they give extremists time to regroup and focus on launching cross-border attacks against US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
The video, shot with a cellphone, initially shows the girl, clad in a black burka, being held by bearded men while another begins striking her. She can be heard shouting for help in the Pashtu language, spoken by most locals in Swat, but is dragged away to another location, held down, and flogged. Several dozen people can be seen looking on.
"For God's sake, please stop, stop it," the girl pleads as the whip falls. "I am dying."
A Taliban spokesman, Muslim Khan, defended the public lashing, saying the girl had engaged in immoral behavior, but he was not specific. "It happened two months ago, when we were at war with the government," he told reporters in Swat. But local people said the incident had taken place two weeks ago in the village of Kala Kalae.
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani condemned the flogging and pledged an investigation. The government's former information minister, Sherry Rehman, requested a special session of Parliament.
"Such brutalities . . . cannot be allowed to take place under the leadership of a democratic government," Rehman said in a statement. "We cannot leave our citizens at the mercy of militants who are murdering and maiming our people in the name of Islam."
Insurgents in the valley, 100 miles north of Islamabad, the capital, struck a truce in February with Pakistani authorities. It called for the Taliban to cease hostilities and the government to permit the establishment of Islamic courts.
Some Pakistani religious leaders defended the public whipping.
"The flogging is Islamic, and the punishment is written in the holy Koran," Mufti Munibur Rehman, a leading Muslim scholar, said in a televised debate. "So how can we term it un-Islamic?"
The central government was not a party to the peace accord, but signaled its approval and pulled back army troops. The Swat agreement was viewed with concern by Western governments, but Pakistani officials defended it as a way of stemming bloodshed in Swat and said the brand of Islamic law to be imposed was not a particularly harsh one.
Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.