Rights groups accuse Taliban of rolling back civil liberties

Report accuses the armed group of several rights violations ranging from limits on press freedom to restrictions on women.

Afghan women converse with a Taliban fighter while they hold placards during a demonstration demanding better rights for women in front of the former Ministry of Women Affairs in Kabul on September 19, 2021
Afghan women converse with a Taliban fighter while they hold placards during a demonstration demanding better rights for women [Bulent Kilic/AFP]

Rights groups have accused the Taliban of “steadily dismantling” human rights in Afghanistan since the group captured power last month.

In a briefing released on Tuesday, Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) accused the Taliban of a number of rights violations including limits on the freedom of the press, restrictions on women and targeted killing of civilians and former government officials.

At a news conference on August 17, just two days after the group took power, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s deputy minister of information and culture, made several references to a “general amnesty” that would be applied across the country.

But the rights groups’ 29-page report said the Taliban merely “attempted to portray themselves as a reformed group that acknowledges a semblance of women’s rights and freedom of expression” but that such statements “are only a cover for a regression to their earlier regime of repression”.

Taliban’s first stint in power between 1996-2001 was marked by rights abuses against ethnic minorities and curbs on education and economic empowerment of women.

Journalists, activists and women agreed with the rights organisations, telling Al Jazeera that the Taliban failed to live up to its public statements.

‘Muzzle everyone’

When the Taliban took over last month, Mariam Ebram led a group of women in the western city of Herat in a protest near the governor’s compound.

The 24-year-old said she and other women were hopeful that the Taliban would take their demonstrations seriously. But she says the group’s actions in subsequent weeks have robbed her and other women of those hopes.

“At first, we thought we could convince them to change, but all they’ve done since then is muzzle everyone,” Ebram told Al Jazeera.

A week after the demonstration in Herat, the Taliban announced that all protests, including slogans, chants and signs employed, would need Ministry of Justice approval.

That decree came from the group’s acting interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is one of several Taliban officials whose name is on the US “terrorist” list.

He also leads the Haqqani Network, known as the most brutal and violent group associated with the Taliban, and has been accused of staging some of the worst attacks in the country.

“Sirajuddin is someone known for his brutality,” Ebram said. “Now, even if we see something, we don’t dare record it on our phones or report it.”

Ebram said she has had her own phone snatched when she wanted to document the Taliban beating up a man on the streets of Herat.

‘No women’s rights’

The report added that “messages regarding women’s rights that have been communicated by the Taliban since they took power, have been unclear and inconsistent and have left women in Afghanistan terrified.”

Nargis Sadiqi, a reporter who had worked for the government and took part in demonstrations against the Taliban, said since the group came to power, women’s rights have been “trampled” in Afghanistan.

“There’s no such thing as women’s rights anymore,” Sadiqi said.

Sadiqi, who has worked in Kabul and Herat, said the first blow came in August when senior Taliban leader Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai told the BBC Pashto service that there “may not” be a place for women in a future Taliban-led government.

When the Taliban announced its government earlier this month, Stanikzai’s statement was borne out by the all-male, all-Taliban cabinet.

That cabinet announcement also saw the scrapping of the women affairs ministry and the re-establishment of the Ministry for Preaching and Guidance and the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

Sadiqi said when the Taliban came to the television station where she works, she was forced to hide.

“I have to leave my camera behind and run into a closet,” she said.

Although many women have managed to return to work since the Taliban came to power, several women who have spoken to Al Jazeera during the last five weeks said they have either been told not to go to work or that they feel too scared of possible abuse or intimidation by the Taliban to return to their workplaces.

The report cites two instances of female bank workers in Herat and Kandahar being escorted home and told that their male relatives would take their place.

“It is not yet known if these were isolated incidents or are part of a wider pattern” of trying to keep women from work as the group did in the 1990s, the briefing added.

Mujahid, the Taliban minister, told Afghanistan’s TOLOnews on Monday that concerns over the human rights situation in the country will be addressed if the international community recognises the Taliban government.

“As long as we are not recognised, and they make criticisms, we think it is a one-sided approach. It would be good for them to treat us responsibly and recognise our current government as a responsible administration. Afterward, they can share their concerns lawfully with us and we will address their concerns,” Mujahid said.

Increasing threats

Sadiqi and Ebram said they have both been threatened by the Taliban and have been told by their families to stay quiet on social media and to refrain from criticising the group.

A female activist in the southern province of Kandahar said she no longer feels comfortable speaking to the media due to threats she has received from the Taliban after she shared the story of abuses inflicted on her family.

“Until a time when I feel safe, I can’t tell my story publicly anymore,” the activist, who wished to remain anonymous, told Al Jazeera.

The briefing points out that the last month saw instances of abuse and intimidation across the country.

At least three protesters were shot dead by the Taliban in the eastern city of Jalalabad when they replaced the group’s flag with the Afghanistan national flag during the country’s Independence Day celebrations on August 19.

In Kabul, local journalists have been beaten, tortured and detained by the Taliban for reporting on the economy and protests since the group retook Afghanistan on August 15.

For nearly a month, residents in Panjshir have been without reliable phone and internet services after the Taliban cut off mobile phone services in the province, which is home to the last remaining organised resistance against its rule.

“Given the prevailing climate of fear, lack of mobile connectivity in many areas, and internet blackouts enforced by the Taliban, these findings are likely to represent just a snapshot of what’s happening on the ground,” said Dinushika Dissanayake, Amnesty International’s deputy director for South Asia.

Source: Al Jazeera