Taliban has expanded crackdown on civil society, says Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report released on Wednesday stated that the Taliban has expanded civil society crackdown and the group increasingly arrests activists and journalists critical to them.

The report highlights the cases of French-Afghan journalist Mortaza Behboudi, education activist Matiullah Wesa, and former university professor Rasul Abdi Parsi, among others, who were detained without explanation and have been held without access to legal representation or family visits. 

“I am very worried, I haven’t talked to Mortaza for nearly three months now,” Behboudi’s wife, Aleksandra, told HRW. “He’s a photographer, journalist, and free speech defender. He doesn’t belong in prison.”

The Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid did not confirm Mortaza’s arrest until February 26, claiming that Behboudi is fine and he was treated well, but he provided no reason for his detention. 

The Taliban have also recently detained Matiullah Wesa, an education activist and the founder of Pen-Path, an organization campaigning for education in Afghanistan, along with his two brothers. Furthermore, in early March, the group detained Rasul Abdi Parsi, a former Herat University professor who had written Facebook posts critical to the Taliban. 

According to HRW, dozens of women’s rights protestors have also been detained by the Taliban in the past year, with many more unreported cases likely in remote areas where local media is restricted. “Taliban authorities rarely provide any information about basis for these arrests or when those arrested will be put on trial, if ever. It isn’t even clear what laws and procedures – if any – the Taliban are applying to detain people.”

HRW stated that the Taliban’s repression of civil society is expanding, with an increasing number of arrests and targeting of critics. “The Taliban seem to believe that crushing all criticism is the path to political legitimacy.” 

The organization called on foreign diplomats, UN officials and international organizations to urge the Taliban to halt these arbitrary arrests and detentions, which are only imperiling Afghanistan’s future.