The hardline Taliban government in Afghanistan pushed back Thursday against an international outcry over its first public execution and application of Sharia, or Islamic law, to criminal justice at large, calling it "reprehensible" and "interference" in the country's internal affairs.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement the criticism had "unfortunately" stemmed from a lack of understanding and research about Islam as well as Afghanistan, where he said more than 99% of the population are Muslim.
"They have rendered many sacrifices for the enforcement of Islamic laws and system in the country," Mujahid said.
On Wednesday, the radical Taliban carried out their first public execution since seizing power last year, putting to death a man convicted of murder, causing outrage among global human rights defenders. The United States called the execution "despicable."
The execution was staged in a sports stadium in western Farah province, where top Taliban leaders were among hundreds of spectators. Officials said the sentence, carried out by the father of the victim, was in line with "qisas," an Islamic law stipulating the person is punished in the same way the victim was murdered.
The United Nations decried the action as a form of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" and "contrary to the right to life protected" under international laws.
Mujahid defended the public execution, saying death penalties "are given all over the world, even in America and Europe."
In recent weeks, Taliban authorities also have flogged dozens of men and women in crowded football stadiums in several areas, including the capital, Kabul, for committing alleged "moral crimes" such as adultery, theft, running away from home, "illegal relationships, and sodomy."
On Thursday, the Taliban Supreme Court announced the public flogging of another 27 convicts, including nine women, in Parwan province, about 50 kilometers north of the Afghan capital. It said the "criminals confessed" to their crimes without any force.
"The fact that Afghanistan is being criticized for applying Islamic sentences shows that some countries and organizations have either insufficient knowledge or have problems with Islam, respecting Muslims' beliefs and laws," Mujahid stated.
"This action is an interference in the internal affairs of countries and is reprehensible."
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington that officials were closely watching the Taliban's treatment of Afghans and their strict interpretation of Sharia.
"This indicates to us that the Taliban seek a return to their regressive and abusive practices of the 1990s," he said, referring to the hardline group's previous rule in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
"It was an affront to the dignity and the human rights of all Afghans then; it would be an affront to the dignity and the human rights of all Afghans now. It is a clear failure by the Taliban to uphold their promises," Price added.
While the former Taliban government was recognized by only three countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and neighboring Pakistan, no foreign government has yet established formal ties with the new male-only regime in Kabul over human rights concerns, especially the treatment of Afghan women.
Despite repeated assurances to the international community that they would respect women's rights to public life and education, the Taliban have ordered women to cover their faces in public and not undertake long road trips without a close male relative.
Women are barred from entering public parks, gyms and baths, while most female government staff members have been told to stay at home.
Teenage girls have been banned from attending school beyond the sixth grade across most of Afghanistan.
Thomas West, the U.S. special Afghan representative, on Wednesday met with Taliban Defense Minister Mulawi Mohammed Yaqub in Abu Dhabi where he raised "the deteriorating" human rights situation in Afghanistan, particularly for women and girls.
"The country's economic & social stability & the Taliban's domestic & international legitimacy depend enormously on their treatment of Afghanistan's mothers & daughters," West said on Twitter after the meeting.
The Taliban regained power in August 2021 as the United States and NATO withdrew their troops from the country after 20 years of war.
The transition triggered enforcement of international sanctions against the former insurgent group and suspension of financial aid to Afghanistan, worsening humanitarian conditions and plunging the conflict-torn country's economy into crisis.
The Taliban began implementing public punishments in early November, when their reclusive supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, ordered judges to fully enforce Sharia. Akhundzada has pledged repeatedly to govern Afghanistan strictly in line with Islamic law, telling the international community he would not compromise on Sharia, come what may.