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Criticisms Mount as Taliban’s Arrest of Women Continues

Afghanistan’s Taliban regime has been arresting dozens of women since last week in an apparent crackdown on perceived violations of the regime’s strict dress code. The ongoing detention of women by the regime has raised serious concern among women and girls in the country and triggered widespread reactions from the United Nations, citizens, politicians, rights activists, and religious scholars.

According to local media and our sources, Taliban agents continue to arrest women and girls in parts of Kabul city and central Daikundi province, including those who adhere to the regime’s dress code. Officials from a vocational training center in western Kabul reported to KabulNow on Wednesday that three of its female students were arrested by Taliban agents three days ago, despite wearing full hijab and being accompanied by their male family members. They have not yet been released and their fate remains unclear.

Rukhshana Media reports that the Taliban morality police in central Daikundi province arrested four young women in the provincial capital of Nili on similar charges on Monday, January 8. While one of the girls was reportedly released after a few hours on the condition of complying with the dress code, there is currently no information available about the rest of the girls.

Local sources told KabulNow that the Taliban authorities in Kabul have asked the families of the detained girls to march in support of the regime’s dress code policy and then provide guarantees as a basic condition for the release of their daughters. Meanwhile, a woman activist in Kabul said that the Taliban initially conducted biometric registrations of the girls and their families. In the subsequent phase, if they violate the regime’s dress code, they demand 20,000 Afghanis ($280) from the families as a guarantee. If the girls fail to meet the Taliban’s conditions, in the third phase, the demand increases to 50,000 Afghanis ($700) as a guarantee. Finally, in cases of disobedience, they face imprisonment as the ultimate consequence. We have not been able yet to confirm the full details of this information with other sources and the Taliban authorities.

Recently, the Taliban’s Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice confirmed to the media that some women in Kabul have been detained for “improper dress” (bad hijab) but did not clarify the number of women and girls detained thus far. The ministry had previously introduced its prescribed hijab standards through images and guidelines. The guideline says that black clothes and scarves that are not tight-fitting are an acceptable type of hijab along with the preferred burqa. But the first and best form of “obeying hijab” for women — meaning covering their faces — is to “not leave home without necessity.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban regime’s chief spokesperson, has also confirmed the mass arrest of women and girls, accusing them of promoting “improper hijab“ in the country. In an interview with CBS News, Mujahid said “A group of women who were involved in modeling to promote clothes were detained, advised in front of their family members, and released within hours.”

Women arrested by the Taliban reportedly endure abuse and other ill-treatment in the regime’s prisons. Incidents of rape and other forms of abuse have led to several cases of women committing suicide after being released from Taliban prisons in the past. In the past two weeks alone, two young women—Zahra Mohammadi, a women’s rights activist, and 21-year-old Bibi Gul—have taken their own lives in northern Kunduz province following their release from Taliban prison. In November of last year, another women’s rights activist named Homa ended her life following her release from a Taliban prison in northern Balkh province.

Wasima Kohistani (pseudonym), a woman recently released from a Taliban prison in Kabul, shared with KabulNow that she had endured severe sexual violence during her captivity. “One night, the Taliban forces repeatedly raped a woman who happened to be the sister of a former soldier in the previous government,” she said, adding that another female prisoner died in the prison due to the Taliban’s sexual abuse and harassment.

These detentions due to non-compliance with hijab have faced criticism from human rights organizations UN experts, rights activists, and Afghan politicians. Richard Bennett, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Afghanistan, wrote that detaining girls for “bad hijab” restricts women’s freedom of expression and undermines their rights. Bennett has called on the Taliban authorities to release the detained girls immediately and without conditions.

Amnesty International has also expressed concern about the detention of women and girls in Afghanistan, stating, “The Taliban’s dress-code crackdown and arbitrary arrest is a further violation of women’s freedom of movement and expression in Afghanistan.” The organization emphasized that the crackdown must cease immediately, and those detained should be released.

Meanwhile, the Chargé d’Affaires of the Afghanistan Permanent Mission to the UN, Naseer Ahmad Faiq, said that respecting and protecting women has always been an inherent part of Afghanistan’s culture, representing one of the key values and principles of Islam. “No government has previously attacked the culture and way of life of its people, currently, the people in Afghanistan lack mental security and peace,” he said.

Human Rights Defenders Plus (HRD+), an independent Afghan-led human rights network, said in a statement that the imprisonment of a group of women under the pretext of hijab is an example of a crime against humanity. The organization called on the international community, the International Criminal Court (ICC), in particular on the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, to take action and put pressure on the Taliban for this crime.