Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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February 6, 2013

Woman in Timbuktu punished for forbidden love


The police made her kneel in a traffic circle. They covered her in a gauze-like shroud. They told her to remove her dress, leaving only the thin fabric to protect her skin from the whip. Curious children jostled for a better view.

What they did to her was witnessed by dozens of people in Timbuktu, and can still be heard on the meat seller's cell phone.

A man announced Salaka's crime and her punishment. Then he began flogging her with a switch made from the branch of a tree. Her high-pitched cries are contorted with pain. You can hear the slap of the whip. You can hear her labored breathing.

They hit her so hard and for so long that at one point she wasn't sure if the veil had fallen off. She could feel the blood seeping through.

When it was over, they told her that if they ever saw her with a man again, they would kill her.

Her lover called as soon as she got home. The night she was caught, he ran away to Mali's distant capital, becoming one of an estimated 385,000 people who have fled their homes from the north.

He said over and over: "I'm sorry." He promised to marry her. But he has not yet returned. She still will not name him, fearing the Islamist extremists will be back.

Her face warms when she speaks of him and contracts when she describes her pain and humiliation. There isn't a child in Timbuktu who doesn't recognize her, she says. Even now she avoids the market, sending her sisters to buy the meat instead.

"This was a tyrannical regime, which had no pity towards women," she says. "I'm not the only one that went through this. I did this because I was in love."

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