(New York) – The women’s prison director in Herat, Afghanistan has been missing since October 2021 and is feared to have been forcibly disappeared, Human Rights Watch said today. Alia Azizi had worked under the former government but returned to her job after the Taliban took over Herat in August.
Taliban authorities should promptly and credibly investigate Azizi’s enforced disappearance and release her from custody or make her whereabouts known.
“It’s been over six months since Alia Azizi went missing, and the Taliban authorities have yet to carry out a credible investigation,” said Fereshta Abbasi, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “International law obligates the authorities to investigate apparent forced disappearances, prosecute those responsible for violations, and inform the person’s family of their whereabouts.”
Azizi had been working as a police officer with the former Afghan government for 17 years, and as the head of the women’s prison in Herat since 2019. She stopped working when the Taliban took control of Herat on August 12 and stayed home for two weeks. But then the new Taliban head of Herat’s central prison called her and asked her to resume working. A contact said the official told her, “As there are women prisoners, we need you to come back to work.”
Azizi’s family has sought the assistance of the Herat governor’s office, the head of the police station, and the head of Herat prison to locate her, and has asked the Taliban authorities to investigate. However, Taliban officials have told them that they consider it a family matter and will not intervene.
International law defines enforced disappearance as the detention of a person by state officials or their agents and a refusal to acknowledge the detention or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. People held in secret are especially vulnerable to extrajudicial execution, torture, and other abuses, and their families suffer from the lack of information.
Azizi’s case illustrates the failure of Taliban authorities to investigate serious allegations of human rights violations, including retaliation against former government officials. Rather than deny that such abuses occur, they should adopt concrete measures to deter serious abuses by their security forces and respond promptly to allegations with impartial investigations and appropriate prosecutions.
“Enforced disappearances are an egregious crime that will persist in Afghanistan unless the Taliban authorities get serious about ending this cruel practice and bringing those responsible to justice,” Abbasi said.