Four Afghan feminist activists, arrested in Kabul last January for having demonstrated in favor of women’s rights, were released by the Taliban on February 12. For our Observer, this long-awaited release does not mean an improvement in women’s rights in Afghanistan, where dozens of women are still missing and could also be detained by the Taliban.
On August 15, 2021, the Taliban took possession of Kabul and thus regained power in Afghanistan.
Despite promises of “openness”, the Taliban quickly announced worrying measures for women’s rights in Afghanistan. Feminist activists were then the first to dare to defy their power.
This video shows activist Tamana Zaryabi Paryani’s home, moments before her arrest by the Taliban. You can hear him say : “The Taliban want to break into our house. Oh my God, my sisters are there too. Please leave (…) Help, help !”
In Kabul, several rallies have been organized since August 2021 to denounce the restrictions imposed on women and girls, as well as to defend the right to education and to participate in political life.
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Demonstration in Kabul suppressed by the Taliban: “Even if you decapitate us, we will push back”
The reaction of the Taliban was severe: several women were beaten, arrested or killed. Others had to flee, go abroad, to protect themselves and their families.
“They are devastated morally and psychologically”
Atefa Ghafouri is an Afghan journalist and women’s rights activist. Threatened by the Taliban, she fled to Europe last January:
Tamana [Zaryabi Paryani]Zahra [Mohammadi]Parwana [Ibrahimkhel] and Mursal [Ayar] are four female activists who were arrested, along with some of their relatives, by the Taliban in Kabul. We knew that the Taliban had kidnapped them, but for several weeks we had no news of them.
I was able to speak with some of their relatives. I know they went through very difficult times in prison. They are morally and psychologically devastated, and are not yet able to talk about it.
We know these women because their arrest was announced publicly by their families and friends. But the real number of victims seems to be much higher. The problem is that many families refuse to talk about it because of the pressure and threats they receive from the Taliban. Many women’s rights activists have received threats online, on the phone or in the mail. Some of them were summoned to the offices of the Taliban police – and this is the case of women who are now missing.
Sometimes, it is also the families of these activists who are threatened. The Taliban tell them, “If you want your wife or daughter to be safe, shut her up.”
A Taliban soldier hits a female protester with an iron rod, September 7. Video sent to us by one of our Observers in Kabul.
A Taliban soldier beats a protester, September 7, 2021. Video transmitted by one of our Observers in Kabul.
The relatives of our Observer have also experienced these threats:
A few weeks before the Taliban took over the country, my father was walking down the street. He walked past the governor’s office and a man put a gun to his head, threatening to kill him and my whole family if I didn’t stop working. It was horrible. For several weeks, I couldn’t go out and I couldn’t write anything on my social networks, for fear that at the slightest word or action on my part, they would kill me and my loved ones.
On February 12, the US envoy for women’s rights in Afghanistan, Rina Amiri, estimated that at least two women were still being held by the Taliban.
Tammana and Parvaneh were arrested at their home on January 19, just an hour before Taliban representatives met with Norwegian officials in Oslo to discuss women’s rights.
Immediately after this encounter, three other women were abducted. According to their families, these abductions were very violent: dozens of men burst into the houses, beating everyone and giving no explanation.
Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban’s foreign minister, claimed at the Oslo meeting that some rogue groups were carrying out such operations without Taliban approval. He was certainly referring to the Haqqani network, the military section of the Taliban [ce groupe est responsable de certaines des attaques les plus dévastatrices en Afghanistan, NDLR].
On January 23, several senior Taliban figures, including Amir Khan Muttaqi and Anas Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani faction, met with Western officials for three days in Oslo to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and human rights, in especially those of women.
At these meetings, they denied any involvement in the abductions of women. Government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also denied any arrests of feminist activists. Atefa Ghafouri continues:
In my opinion, initiatives like these meetings in Oslo do not help Afghan women. The Taliban continued to arrest female activists. Nothing has changed regarding the status of women. Inviting internationally wanted terrorists like Anas Haqqani to Norway only gives them more legitimacy.
The only thing Western governments can do is stop helping the Taliban at all levels. The Afghan government should only be recognized if it is inclusive, free, endorsed by elections, and guarantees women rights and a role in society [aucun pays n’a encore reconnu le gouvernement taliban en Afghanistan, NDLR].
Members of the Taliban fire in the air to disperse demonstrators, September 7. Video sent by one of our Observers in Kabul.
A member of the Taliban fires in the air to disperse the demonstrators, September 7, 2021. Video transmitted by one of our Observers in Kabul.
On January 26, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern “at reports of arbitrary arrests and abductions of female activists” in Afghanistan and called for the release of these women.
“The release of these four women does not mean that the Taliban are changing course under international pressure”
For the time being, the Taliban have not given an answer to the families who are worried about the arrest of their loved ones. They only deny their involvement in these cases.
They are simply seeking international recognition as leaders of Afghanistan to see the assets frozen in international banks released and to receive international humanitarian aid. [les États-Unis ont gelé environ 9,5 milliards de dollars d’avoirs étrangers de l’Afghanistan et ont imposé des sanctions financières au pays, NDLR].
But at the same time, they want to silence any form of opposition in the country. And women activists were the first – and only – group to challenge Taliban rule. They commit atrocities without claiming responsibility.
The release of these four women does not mean that the Taliban is changing course under international pressure, as many women are still illegally detained.
And unfortunately, I think it works: because of threats and arrests, fewer and fewer women dare to speak out.