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Women’s Rights Activists Under Attack in Afghanistan

Taliban Arbitrarily Detains, Threatens, Tortures Women Protesters

Women gather to demand their rights under Taliban rule during a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 3, 2021. © 2021 Wali Sabawoon/AP Photo

Zhulia Parsi. Neda Parwani. Manizha Sediqi. Parisa Azada.

These are four women’s rights activists arbitrarily detained by the Taliban right now. Remember their names. But please also remember that there are many more in custody who have not been named.

When the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan in August 2021, their intent to suffocate the rights of women and girls became immediately apparent. Protests by women began just as quickly: they took to the streets with placards and chants. The chants coalesced into a clear demand: “Bread, work, freedom.”

The Taliban responded: with violence, detention, and torture. The Taliban have since detained a steady flow of women, silencing them and terrorizing their families. Most have been protesters, but others, including women running underground schools, have also been targeted. “Our members are extremely worried about their own safety and that of their families,” a women’s rights activist told us. “They are under constant pressure and fear of detention.”

You haven’t heard of most of the detained women. Families are terrified into concealing their arrests, hoping silence might buy their release or reduce abuses in custody. Families struggle to locate the detained women, who are effectively forcibly disappeared. When they find them, they are often shocked by their state. “I don’t know what [she] is going through,” one family member said. “During the visit, she couldn’t finish her words. She goes silent after a few words.”

Women have been arrested with family members, including small children. They are held in abusive conditions, and sometimes tortured. If they’re released, the Taliban demand deeds to their family’s property, threatening to confiscate it if the woman continues her activism.

Human Rights Watch is aware of many more cases – past and present – of detained women activists whom we cannot safely name here.

The Taliban’s crackdown is ongoing. They continue to issue abusive new policies and to brutally enforce old ones. Even women who protest in their homes are being arrested. “We were first forced to leave the streets and now it’s even impossible to organize indoors. The spirit of protest is somehow suffocated in the country,” an activist said.

The Taliban want to be formally recognized as Afghanistan’s government. Afghan women activists are the greatest obstacle to them achieving this. The world should be doing more to stand with Afghan women, who are risking – and losing – so much to raise their voices.

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