KABUL, Afghanistan – Dozens of men and women took to the streets of Kabul on Wednesday to protest the recent public slaying of an Afghan woman accused of adultery whose gruesome, execution-style killing was captured on video.
The footage, which surfaced recently, shows the woman being shot multiple times about 10 days ago in Parwan province, north of the Afghan capital. The gunman was encouraged by people who stood nearby, smiling and cheering.
Police in Parwan said the Taliban were behind the killing, but the insurgents have denied they ordered or carried out the slaying.
The death of the unidentified woman, who was said to be in her 20s, set off a storm of condemnation. President Hamid Karzai, the U.S. Embassy, the top NATO military commander in Afghanistan and activist groups all denounced the killing.
It was a reminder that girls and women still suffer shocking abuse in Afghanistan, but the protest also indicated that people's views on women's rights here could be slowly changing.
"We want the government to take action on behalf of these women ... who are victims of violence and who are being killed," said Zuhra Alamyar, a woman activist who was at the Kabul rally. "We want the government to take serious action and stop them."
The crowd of about 50 demonstrators carried large white sheets that said "International community: Where is the protection and justice for Afghan women?" They marched from the Afghan Ministry of Women's Affairs to a traffic circle near a U.N. compound, and some shouted: "Death to those who did this act!"
Despite guaranteed rights and progressive new laws, the U.N. Development Program still ranks Afghanistan as one of the world's worst countries when it comes to equal rights for women. Afghan advocates say attitudes have subtly shifted over the years, in part thanks to the dozens of women's groups that have sprung up.
Still, ending abuse of women is a huge challenge in a patriarchal society where traditional practices include child marriage, giving girls away to settle debts or pay for their relatives' crimes and so-called honor killings in which girls seen as disgracing their families are murdered by relatives.
Women activists worry that gains made in recent years could erode as the international presence in Afghanistan wanes and the government seeks to negotiate a settlement with the hardline Islamic Taliban insurgents.
During the Taliban regime, women were banned from working and going to school, or even leaving home without a male relative. In public, all women were forced wear a head-to-toe burqa veil, which covers even the face with a mesh panel.
The video surfaced just before donor nations met this weekend in Tokyo and pledged $16 billion in aid for Afghanistan. The donors expressed strong concerns over how the money will be handled and also called on Kabul to improve human rights, especially women's rights.
"We want from the government to follow the killing of the women in Afghanistan and hand over those responsible to face justice," said Afghan woman's rights activist Simi Samar.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a NATO service member died Wednesday in a roadside bombing in the south. NATO did not disclose any other information about the death.
So far this year, 232 NATO service members have been killed in Afghanistan.
Separately, an Afghan policeman has been arrested in connection with the alleged rape of a 16-year-old boy in Zabul province in southern Afghanistan, the interior ministry said Wednesday.
A video, which was taken with a mobile phone and widely shared throughout the province, shows the policeman sexually assaulting a boy inside a room earlier this year. The commander of the accused policeman's unit also has been detained, along with two other people suspected of being involved in the alleged assault.