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Taliban soldiers gather with weapons and machinery in Panjshir province, northern Afghanistan, September 8, 2021. © 2021 AP Photo/Mohammad Asif Khan

(New York) – Taliban security forces in northern Afghanistan’s Panjshir province have unlawfully detained and tortured residents accused of association with an opposition armed group, Human Rights Watch said today.

Since mid-May 2022, fighting has escalated in the province as National Resistance Front (NRF) forces have attacked Taliban units and checkpoints. The Taliban have responded by deploying to the province thousands of fighters, who have carried out search operations targeting communities they allege are supporting the NRF. During search operations in other provinces, Taliban forces have committed summary executions and enforced disappearances of captured fighters and other detainees, which are war crimes.

“Taliban forces in Panjshir province have quickly resorted to beating civilians in their response to fighting against the opposition National Resistance Front,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Taliban’s longstanding failure to punish those responsible for serious abuses in their ranks puts more civilians at risk.”

A human rights advocate who has interviewed several former detainees and a source with direct information about Taliban detentions spoke to Human Rights Watch about the Panjshir situation.

Former detainees in early June reported that Taliban security forces detained about 80 residents in Panjshir’s Khenj district and beat them to compel them to provide information about the NRF. After several days, the Taliban released 70, but have continued to hold 10 people whose relatives they accuse of being members of the group, a form of collective punishment.

Former detainees said the district jail held nearly 100 others who have alleged links to the NRF. None had access to their families or lawyers. Others have been held in informal detention facilities.

International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, which is applicable in Afghanistan’s armed conflicts, obligates all warring parties to treat everyone in their custody humanely. People taken into custody must be promptly charged with a criminal offense or released. The protections of international human rights law also apply. Denying detainees access to lawyers and family members is prohibited and increases the risk of torture and enforced disappearance. Collective punishment – the punishment of individuals for alleged actions of others – is a violation of the laws of war and a war crime.

Human rights groups and local and international media have reported that the whereabouts of some men taken into Taliban custody in Panjshir province have not been revealed, and that some with suspected links to the NRF have been killed. In some places the bodies of those killed have been displayed as an apparent warning to others.

The NRF, headed by Ahmad Massoud, is the principal armed opposition group in Panjshir and neighboring provinces. It includes some fighters who had served in the former Afghan National Security Forces.

Taliban troops in Panjshir are under the command of the Taliban’s defense minister, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, who stated on May 21 that the authorities would not allow anyone to “disrupt security” in the province. The Defense Ministry and the General Directorate of Intelligence have overseen operations in Panjshir.

After the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, their forces, including military and intelligence officers, have carried out many summary killings and enforced disappearances. There is no indication that they have held forces responsible for abuses accountable.

“Taliban forces in Panjshir have imposed collective punishment and disregarded protections to which detainees are entitled,” Gossman said. “This is just the latest example of Taliban abuses during fighting in the region 10 months after the Taliban took power.”

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