Last Saturday Pakistani TV stations broadcast a video clip showing a young woman repeatedly whipped by a bearded man, his face made unrecognisable by a turban, wielding a whip. She was punished for an “unlawful relationship with her father-in-law.”
The alleged incident took place in the Swat Valley, an area of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) where Islamic law was imposed following an agreement between the Pakistani government and the Tahrik-e-Nifaz Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) movement.
For Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry the whipping of the 17-year-old girl by the Taliban was a serious violation of fundamental rights and ordered the interior secretary to bring the girl before his court on 6 April where he will head an eight-judge panel to hear the case, but the young woman did not appear today.
During today’s hearing Attorney General Latif Khosa asked the court to have future hearings conducted behind closed doors given the matter’s sensitive nature.
Chief Justice Chaudhry turned down the request arguing that the incident has already been made public as a result of media coverage and that all the facts need to be brought before the public.
In a statement, the young Taliban victim, fearing fundamentalist violence, denied that she was the victim of violence.
Also during the initial hearing the NWFP Inspector General told the court that police have no access to several areas in Swat under Taliban control.
Elsewhere in Pakistan protests against Taliban violence are growing. On Saturday the Labour Party of Pakistan organised a demonstration in front of the Karachi Press Club, attracting a large number of women.
In Lahore thousands of people—students, teachers, human rights activists, actors, artists, journalists, lawyers and ordinary citizens—protested the whipping of the young woman by taking part in a rally for peace and against terrorism.
As a result of this episode the whole country seems to be rising up against fundamentalism, demanding that everyone’s basic human rights be respected.
For their part the Taliban are claiming that the video at the centre of the controversy is a fake and a distortion of reality.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, of the fundamentalist Jamiat Ulema‑e‑Islam‑Fazl (JUI‑F) movement, claims that a conspiracy is underway to sabotage the peace deal.
He has pointed the finger at women’s rights NGOs, accusing them of causing the storm even before any of the facts were confirmed.
In turn, those who back the charges have reasserted the authenticity of the video.
Documentary film maker Samar Minallah said she received the video from an activist from the Swat Valley.
She confirmed that the young woman seen in the video spoke Pashto, a language spoken in the Afghan-Pakistan border area.
“Everyone knew about the incident,” Ms Samar said, but the provincial government is trying to draw attention away from the violence and abuses inflicted on women.
Furthermore, she noted that “Muslim Khan had said that the actual punishment for the girl was stoning to death” when in reality “she was ‘only’ flogged”.