6 months later, Afghan activists remain in the line of fire of the Taliban

Several female activists are feared to have disappeared in recent weeks amid the escalating Taliban crackdown on women. Six months after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, The New Arab investigates their current situation.

Growing reports of arrested and abducted Afghan activists have raised alarm bells over the plight of missing critics and the women’s rights movement in the war-torn country.

Last week, two other young women, Zahra Mohammadi, a dentist, and Mursal Ayar, a journalist, were reportedly captured by the Taliban from their home in the Afghan capital, Kabul, amid protests for women’s rights.

“Since their return to power, the Taliban have increasingly violated women’s rights by dispersing gatherings of women, detaining women and girls and denying them access to employment, education and to other fundamental rights”

Their enforced disappearances came less than a month after Tamana Paryani and Parwana Ibrahim Khil disappeared after taking part in a protest in Kabul on January 16 against recent Taliban abuses of women protesters and restrictions on women’s rights, including the compulsory wearing of the hijab. During the rally, the group of about 20 protesters set fire to a burqa. In retaliation, Taliban gunmen launched raids on the houses of female activists a few days later.

Paryani posted a video on social media before armed men claiming to be from the Taliban intelligence services burst into her home on the night of January 19 and took her away with three of her sisters. Earlier the same night, Ibrahim Khil and his brother-in-law were abducted while traveling in Kabul.

People march along a street while holding banners during a protest to condemn the recent protest by Afghan women’s rights activists in Kabul [Getty Images]

Since the two abductions, testimonies have circulated about searches of the homes of other women in connection with their participation in recent demonstrations.

“Afghan women are challenging the Taliban regime, forcing them to rethink their policies, demanding their rights,” Shkula Zadran, the 2020 UN Youth Representative for Afghanistan, told New Arab, “so the Taliban are doing their part. best to repress them”. The young woman, who has strongly criticized the Taliban, left Kabul with her family in the first week after the Taliban took over the country on August 15, and is currently based in the United States.

“There is a clear objective to silence these women,” commented former Afghan judge Najla Ayoubi, founding member of the Women’s Regional Network (WRN), in The New Arab. “By holding them hostage, it seems the Taliban are also trying to pressure the international community to be recognized,” she added.

The lawyer, who lives in the United States, was reportedly forced to flee the Taliban for her life in 2015 after standing up for women’s rights. She continued to work on women’s issues on behalf of Afghan women.

She pointed out that in addition to Taliban oppression, women face a restrictive environment in society, particularly if they are involved in human rights activities that expose their immediate and extended families to acts of retaliation. “The more the authorities put pressure on Afghan women, the more their families put pressure on them and restrict their freedom of movement,” the WRN co-founder said.

“Afghan women are challenging the Taliban regime, forcing them to rethink their policies, demanding their rights”

Mursal Ayar is the sixth woman to have been abducted in recent weeks, according to a BBC report. However, it is very difficult to obtain an accurate number of abducted protesters due to sporadic reports, mostly based on accounts provided by family members of the victims. Access to counts is even more complicated outside the capital, given the widespread fear of reprisals in the context of violent repression against women’s rights defenders.

“This is a trend that continues in different parts of Afghanistan, but we only know of documented incidents in Kabul because families from other areas hardly show up to report them,” Nilofar noted. Ayoubi, an outspoken Afghan activist in exile, speaking to The New Arab and suggested that families of women are reluctant to speak up or identify themselves for the safety of other family members.

One case that has captured the attention of local media, she said, is the mass arrest and capture of 40 young protesting girls from Balkh last September. A week later, the bodies of eight detainees were found on the streets of Mazar-e-Sharif. Some were killed by their families – for honor – after their release from Taliban custody. Nine girls are still missing.

Leader of the Women’s Political Participation Network, Nilofar Ayoubi fled her homeland a week after the Taliban took over because she was blacklisted and hunted down alongside many others who spoke out loud about women’s rights Afghans. From the day she went overseas until today, the feminist activist has worked around the clock to support fellow activists inside Afghanistan and help evacuate part of between them.

The women’s rights defender pointed out that two weeks after the disappearance of Paryani and Ibrahim Khil was announced, a two-day meeting called “Afghan Women’s Days” was organized in the European Parliament to discuss the situation. women and girls in Afghanistan. A number of prominent Afghan women’s rights advocates present at the conference expressed their concerns about the abduction and disappearance of women and called for the support of the international community.

On January 23, a Taliban delegation led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and representatives from the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, the EU and of Norway, along with members of Afghan civil society, gathered in Oslo for three-day talks focusing on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

The summit was greeted by an outcry from Afghan civil society that reignited debate over whether the international community legitimizes the Taliban government, especially as it was held in the country of Norway. NATO involved in Afghanistan from 2001 until the Taliban returned to power last summer.

“No matter how violence affects them, Afghan women will not be silent”

During the talks, Afghan activist Hoda Khamosh publicly called on Muttaqi to “pick up the phone right away and call Kabul [and] order the immediate release” of women detainees.

The Taliban denied any knowledge of their whereabouts and said they were investigating the matter. Yet Afghan women leaders continue to disappear into the hands of the Taliban, often taken to undisclosed locations.

In his speech to the European Parliament, Khamosh also demanded the recognition of fundamental citizens’ rights for women, and the establishment [by the UN] an independent council to investigate the conduct and policies of the Taliban and the situation inside Taliban prisons, and to immediately release prisoners of conscience on the basis of political considerations. [beliefs] and sex.

Afghan women activists gathered to protest Taliban restrictions, demanding rights and justice at the former ‘Ministry of Women’s Affairs’, now the ‘Ministry of Propagating Virtue and Preventing Vice’ by the taliban [Getty Images]

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on the Taliban authorities to obtain information on the fate of the six women and their relatives, who remain missing, and to ensure their safe and immediate release.

Although the location of the abductees is kept secret for security reasons, some women’s rights groups in Afghanistan say they are being held in a high-security facility run by the intelligence department.

“I fear for the lives of these women. I’m afraid they will remain missing and no one will know about it,” Zadran expressed concern.

Beyond the Oslo talks and statements of denunciation by the United Nations and Western officials regarding the Taliban’s violent crackdown on women’s rights activists, the international community has so far shown inaction.

“Maybe regional and global leaders don’t understand, their credibility is at stake,” Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini, founder and CEO of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) recently said. decried“By abducting women with such impunity, the Taliban mocks every state and institution, every standard of human rights and women’s rights.”

As Taliban men continue to hunt down women’s rights activists, some of them have decided to go into hiding, but others have continued to demonstrate in the streets of Kabul despite the frightening escalation of the Taliban crackdown against the women’s rights movement.

Nilofar Ayoubi is convinced that the resistance of Afghan women cannot be broken. “The Taliban can attack girls and women and scare some of them. There will be many who will stand up,” says the activist, “there is no way to stop them”.

“No matter how the violence affects them, Afghan women will not remain silent,” said Najla Ayoubi, equally hopeful.

Since their return to power, the Taliban have increasingly violated women’s rights by dispersing gatherings of women, detaining women and girls, and denying them access to jobs, education and health. other fundamental rights.

Alessandra Bajec is a freelance journalist currently based in Tunis.

Follow her on Twitter: @AlessandraBajec