Media reports say the Taliban on December 7 put an alleged murderer to death in the first public execution held in Afghanistan since the Taliban returned to power.

According to CNN, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the man was shot three times by the father of his alleged victim in an execution attended by senior Taliban officials in southwestern Farah province.  The man had reportedly been accused of stabbing the victim to death in 2017.

The National Public Radio (NPR) cited Mujahid as saying that the decision to carry out the punishment was made very carefully, following approval by three of the country's highest courts and the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.

The executed man, identified as Tajmir from Herat province, was convicted of killing another man five years ago and stealing his motorcycle and mobile phone.  The victim was identified as Mustafa from neighboring Farah province.  

NPR says that according to a statement from Mujahid, Taliban security forces had arrested Tajmir after the victim's family accused him of the crime.  The statement did not say when the arrest took place but said Tajmir had purportedly confessed to the killing.  Mujahid added that Tajmir was shot three times by the victim's father Wednesday with an assault rifle.

The news comes just weeks after the Taliban ordered judges to fully impose their interpretation of Sharia law, including public executions, amputations and flogging – a move that has raised fears of a further deterioration of human rights in the country.

In recent weeks, the country’s supreme court has announced a return to public lashings of men and women, for offences such as robbery and adultery.

The execution drew criticism from the UN human rights office, OHCHR.  Spokesperson Jeremy Laurence described it as a “deeply disturbing” development.

Reminding that public executions constitute a form of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, he stressed that they are “arbitrary in nature and contrary to the right to life protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Afghanistan is a State party.” 

The death penalty is incompatible with fundamental tenets of human rights, and its use cannot be reconciled with full respect for the right to life, said OHCHR’s Jeremy Laurence.  

“We urge the de facto authorities to establish an immediate moratorium on any further executions, and act swiftly to prohibit use of the death penalty in its entirety”.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) echoed that message on social media.  “The UN strongly opposes the death penalty in all circumstances”, it tweeted, urging the Taliban to establish and immediate moratorium on executions, “with a view to abolishing the death penalty”.