Afghanistan government officials have proposed bringing back stoning as a punishment for adultery, a practice that hasn't been legal since the Taliban-era penal code, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The human-rights organization said that a working group led by the Justice Ministry, which is helping draft Afghanistan's new penal code, has proposed provisions on "moral crimes" involving sex outside of marriage that call for stoning.
"International donors, including those supporting the legal reform process, should send a clear message to President Hamid Karzai that inclusion of stoning in the new penal code would have an immediate adverse effect on funding for the government," HRW said in a statement.
There were conflicting news reports over whether the government confirmed the proposal.
A report by the news agency Agence France-Presse corroborated HRW's claims. AFP reported that Mohammad Ashraf Azimi, head of the Justice Ministry's punishment laws department, confirmed that stoning was part of the draft. The draft provisions state that the "implementation of stoning shall take place in public in a predetermined location," AFP reported.
But Azimi, in a statement to The Associated Press, denied that such a measure had been submitted.
"As a member of the department for the punishment laws, I haven't seen this part of the law they are mentioning," he said. "I don't know where they found it and why they are emphasizing it. We are the people working on it, and we haven't seen it."
British news site The Guardian, however, reported that it had obtained the documents and that a translated section of the draft does propose reintroducing stoning to the penal code.
According to The Guardian, it states in Article 21, "Men and women who commit adultery shall be punished based on the circumstances to one of the following punishments: lashing, stoning (to death)." The draft goes on to specify that the stoning should be public.
Azimi said at least two more years are needed to complete the new penal code, intended to replace one in effect since 1976. He said international organizations were heavily involved in the process, which began two years ago.
He added that one working group was dealing with Sharia, or Islamic law, because Afghanistan is an Islamic republic. That group, he said, was drafting various proposals for issues like adultery, which is a crime in Afghanistan punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
"We are working on the draft of a Sharia penal code where the punishment for adultery, if there are four eyewitnesses, is stoning," said Rohullah Qarizada, a member of the Sharia committee working on the draft, Reuters reported.
Billions have been invested in promoting human rights in Afghanistan over more than 12 years of war, and donors fear that hard-won progress, particularly for women, may be eroding.
During Taliban rule in Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, convicted adulterers were routinely shot or stoned in executions. Women were not permitted to go out on their own, girls were barred from schools and men were obliged to grow long beards.
Azimi's remarks came as Afghanistan's Interior Ministry ordered an investigation Monday into the case of a couple allegedly killed by their relatives for adultery. The killing, said to have taken place in a Taliban stronghold in northern Baglan province on Saturday, was based on what the ministry described as an illegal decision taken by tribal elders. Such so-called honor killings are common in Afghanistan's highly conservative Islamic society, particularly in areas controlled by the Taliban.
According to Khadija Akhil, provincial head of women's affairs, a 28-year-old man and 25-year-old woman, who were both married to other people, fled the village of Joye Naw, but their car broke down.
"They were caught, and when police went to the area, the villagers said they were punished according to our culture," she said.
The ministry said police have been ordered to arrest those responsible.
Al Jazeera and wire services