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The restrictions and intimidation documented here have severely affected the political and social environment of Herat and its neighboring provinces. Most residents in Herat city live in fear of authorities-either of arbitrary harassment or targeting because of some sort of disfavored conduct. The fear cuts through social and economic backgrounds, from university professors to bazaar shopkeepers. The stifling environment has shut down almost all political, social, and cultural activity-in short, nothing is happening.

Many people cited the arrest and beating of Rafiq Shahir, documented earlier in this report, as reason why they would not challenge the government or Ismail Khan. An educated Herati who had recently left Herat told Human Rights Watch:

Herat professionals know even before they say anything what the consequences will be. Even peaceful protest will be seriously punished. I'm talking about the majority of silent classes in Herat-they know the situation so they haven't done anything. Torture, beatings, intimidation happen after people do something, but people aren't doing anything now. There was only the Shahir case ... it was symbolic. Ismail Khan wanted to tell intellectuals that if they cross the line, this will be the outcome. So they beat and repressed Shahir.262

When asked how one could be certain that one would be arrested if he or she criticized the government, the same person replied: "We know through our experience and deduction that if we throw ourselves in front of a high-speed train, we will be crushed, without a trace. But just because no one has been crushed yet, it doesn't mean that this is not still true."263

The pessimism was especially disheartening among youth. One student of journalism told Human Rights Watch that she had "given up":

I have to leave this country, forever. I want to leave Afghanistan. There is nothing here-no freedom to do anything. I want to live free. But we cannot even watch television. I cannot learn about anything. The leadership here is very bad for us. It is not much different than the Taliban.264

An eighteen-year-old woman told a Human Rights Watch researcher: "I think it is too late for me. The government will change but not in time for me."265

262 Human Rights Watch interview with N.N., Kabul, September 22, 2002

263 Ibid.

264 Human Rights Watch interview with M.A., Herat, September 16, 2002.

265 Human Rights Watch interview with S.R., Herat, September 12, 2002.

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