Afghan human rights defenders are subjected to sexually charged threats and harassment

A report by the Freedom House has found that 90 percent of Afghan human rights defenders in Afghanistan have been subjected to violence or threats under the Taliban’s repressive rule. “Women human rights defenders have also received sexually charged threats, harassment, and defamation.”

Based on a survey of 663 Afghan human rights defenders, conducted between May and June 2022, the report says that “The people of Afghanistan are experiencing a new level of lawlessness, as arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings have become a defining feature of Taliban rule,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “Afghan human rights defenders live in fear and face grave challenges, whether they remain in the country or have fled abroad. The international community must redouble its support for these activists’ tireless efforts to create a freer and more just Afghanistan.”

Assaults on the Afghan human rights defenders since the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, is of “deep concern,” the report says.

“Human rights defenders need protection wherever they are,” said Anne C. Richard, Afghanistan coordination lead and distinguished fellow at Freedom House. “The immense risks faced by human rights defenders underscore the importance of upholding the right to seek asylum, including by strengthening refugee resettlement programs and not relying on temporary forms of relocation in unsafe countries for human rights defenders under threat. The international community—including the UN, regional and global donors, and the governments of countries hosting refugees—should do everything in its power to assist these brave champions of democratic values.”

The seven largest challenges that the human rights activists are facing in Afghanistan, the survey found, are intimidation and harassment; threats to their life and physical safety; arbitrary arrest and torture; defamation and house searches; violence against family members; other physical and psychological harm; and kidnapping and imprisonment.

“The report finds that women are particularly vulnerable to allegations of prostitution or immorality, which are punishable by whipping or death by stoning under the Taliban. Women human rights defenders have also received sexually charged threats, harassment, and defamation and feel more defenseless and unprotected as a result of their gender,” the report stated.

The survey recommends international organizations and donors to equip Afghan human rights defenders with physical and digital protection resources, create a nationwide protection mechanism, address psychological needs of the defenders, and help in-country and out-of-country human rights defenders to collaborate.