Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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February 6, 2013

Woman in Timbuktu punished for forbidden love

(Continued)

She watched him leave. She was breathing so hard she was afraid the stars could hear her. He passed the first intersection, then the second, and then the third.

The bearded men came on foot via the third intersection. There were four of them. Her lover jumped on his motorcycle and gunned it across the sand. He was the married one and would have paid the higher price.

She knew she couldn't outrun them. So she stood. And in the moments it took for them to descend on her, she realized it would be futile to lie.

___

They took her to the headquarters of the Islamic police, inside a branch of the local bank. They shoved her into the closet-like space where the ATM machine is located and locked the gate behind her.

When she didn't come home that night, her worried sister called her cell phone. The Islamic police answered and told her where Salaka was.

In the morning, her family came to slip her a piece of bread through the grills of the gate, feeding her like an animal at the zoo. Later that day, the police transferred her to a prison they had set up just for women in a wing of the city's central jail. For the next three nights, she slept alone on a hard floor in a large, cement room.

On Jan. 3 they took her to the Islamic tribunal. Just eight days before French President Francois Hollande unilaterally approved a military intervention in Mali on Jan. 11, Salaka was sentenced to 95 lashes. It was a severe punishment even by the standards of the Islamists.

They took her to the market at noon on Jan. 4, the same place where she bought the beef for the brochettes she sold and the flour used to make her mother's flatbread. She recognized the meat sellers. One of them used his phone to record what happened next.

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