Pakistan's top judge ordered a court hearing into the public flogging of a veiled woman, filmed on an amateur video, that raised alarm about the tightening grip of the Taliban in Pakistan.
The details of the woman's alleged crime were unclear, but residents in her village of Kala Killey in Swat said she was accused of illicit relations with an electrician and forced to marry him as part of her punishment.
The footage, apparently from a mobile phone, showed two men pinning down a burka-clad woman by her feet and shoulders, while a man flogged her 34 times with a whip as she screams in agony.
Chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry ordered the girl to attend a hearing set in court on Monday, according to a Supreme Court statement.
He also demanded that government and regional officials from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) appear in person at the hearing.
At least two local residents said the trouble started when unknown people told the Taliban that the electrician visited the girl’s house on Jan. 3, where other women and children were also present.
"The Taliban arrested the couple and recorded their statements,” one of the residents reported on condition of anonymity.
"Both the girl and the electrician assured the Taliban that they had not committed any sin. The couple also expressed readiness to undergo a medical examination to prove their innocence. But the Taliban ordered them to be whipped.”
"The electrician was also whipped but it is not known where he was taken," said a low-level local government leader, who also requested anonymity. "The couple was forced into marrying each other after they were handed down the punishment," he said.
Both the girl and the electrician assured the Taliban that they had not committed any sin
A history of Taliban violence
Local government officials and residents said the video was filmed on Jan. 3, some weeks before the government signed a controversial agreement with a pro-Taliban cleric to allow sharia law in the Swat region, a former tourist resort and barely a morning's drive from the capital Islamabad.
Thousands of Taliban followers spent nearly two years waging a terrifying campaign to enforce sharia law in Swat -- beheading opponents, bombing girls' schools, outlawing entertainment and fighting government forces.
They declared an indefinite ceasefire and vowed to release prisoners in the Swat valley eight days after the government signed the deal accepting Islamic law as the only system of justice in Swat.
The deal provoked alarm in the United States, Europe, Afghanistan and India, where governments are worried it will embolden militants in the North West Frontier Province, which is rife with Taliban and al-Qaeda extremists.
Protests for human rights
Samar Minallah, who works for a Pakistan human rights organization, said she was given the tape by people in Swat and distributed it to the Western media to highlight the cruelties endured by women in the region.
"This girl was flogged on the basis of suspicious and false evidence. She is 17 years old... The entire village knows she is innocent," said Minallah.
The Pakistani government condemned the flogging and ordered an inquiry while hundreds of people held protests and demanded the arrest of those involved.
"Islam strongly prohibits disgracing women and it is the responsibility of the government to bring to justice all those involved in flogging the girl in Swat," women rights' activist Nargis Rehman told a rally of more than 500 in front of the press club in the southern city of Karachi.
Islam strongly prohibits disgracing women and it is the responsibility of the government to bring to justice all those involved in flogging the girl in Swat