Women activists detained in Afghanistan apparently forced to confess before being released

For months, Afghan women have defied the Taliban by demonstrating for their rights.

The Taliban has cracked down on protests through harassment, force and even kidnapping of activists, rights groups say.

Today, the Taliban authorities appear to be using a new tactic to intimidate women’s rights defenders: releasing so-called confessions in which women claim they were told to protest by activists based outside the country.

On February 21, the Taliban Interior Ministry released a video of several women who said they were encouraged by foreign-based militants to take to the streets, offering them the option of relocating or sending their children to study abroad. They also said that contrary to what they expected from the Taliban, they were not treated harshly by the militants.

The women are believed to be among 29 women and their families who disappeared from a safe house in Kabul earlier this month. Rina Amiri, the United States’ special envoy for Afghan women, said on Twitter at the time that the women were among 40 people arrested in the Afghan capital. She later deleted her tweet without providing an explanation.

The video sparked anger and accusations that the Taliban extracted the so-called confession under duress. This tactic is widely used by authoritarian regimes, including neighboring Iran, to discredit activists and critics.

Samira Hamidi, deputy regional director of Amnesty International, said the Taliban were trying to silence protesters and those who challenged the extremist group’s human rights record.

“If you pay attention to the video, the mental state of the women protesting [shows] that they are under pressure,” Hamidi told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.

Hamidi also said on Twitter that it was not clear what kind of pressure the women had faced to confess that they were protesting in order to help them flee the country.

“[The] Taliban tactics are dirty [and] dangerous. This gives a strong message that in retaliation [and] force, they can do anything,” Hamidi said.

Heather Barr, associate director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, raised a big question on Twitter, request“How were these women treated while being abducted and held by the Taliban?”

“When you detain people without charge, lie and say you didn’t detain them and deny them access to lawyers, their families and lawyers, no one is surprised when you crown these abuse through choreographed confessions,” Barr added.

For her part, Fawzia Koofi, a lawmaker and peace negotiator for the former government, condemned the release of the video as “a crime”.

“It is a crime to make a forced confession [and] post the image of women in a way that undermines their character and dignity,” Koofi said on Twitter.

“You took away the right to life of women in my country and you expect no one to protest? You are afraid to protest against women and intend to discredit them by all means, that [shows] the strength of women,” she said. added.

In the controversial video, a spokesperson for the Taliban Interior Ministry claimed the women regretted their actions.

“The women, who had recently been encouraged by some intelligence circles to demonstrate against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and were chanting slogans against the Islamic regime, were recently detained by security forces in a house,” the official said. spokesperson, Aqel Azam. “They confessed to the involvement of foreign intelligence circles, they expressed regret for their actions, and now their lives have been protected by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”

Since returning to power in Afghanistan last August, the Taliban have reimposed many of the oppressive policies they instituted against women during the group’s first stint in power, including barring girls from secondary schools and preventing many women from returning to work.

In recent weeks, a number of female activists have disappeared while the Taliban have denied any role in their disappearance, amid growing fears for their safety.

“I am increasingly concerned about the well-being of missing female activists in Afghanistan. Several have “disappeared”, some have not been heard from for weeks,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. on Twitter February 10. “I strongly urge the Taliban to ensure their safety so that they can return home.”

Several of these women have reportedly been released, but their whereabouts are unknown.

The Taliban, infamous for their brutal rule in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 during which they banned women from public life, initially vowed to protect women’s rights within the confines of their fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic Sharia.

The group, however, which formed an all-male government after taking power in August, subsequently crushed protests and resistance to the return of such restrictive measures, including the compulsory wearing of hijab and the order for women. to be accompanied by a male guardian. in public.