An Iranian-Backed Cleric Cajoled to the Taliban, But the People Turned it Against Him

The Taliban have summoned an Iranian-backed cleric who credited the group for cracking down on prostitution and Christianity. Sayed Esa Hussaini Mazari, the Shia cleric who runs a religious and cultural center supported by the Iranian government was summoned by the Taliban’s police department for the sixth district in Kabul on Tuesday, February 6.

Mr. Mazari was summoned by the Taliban after residents of Kabul, particularly Shias in western parts of the city, criticized his remarks as unfounded and defaming. Ali Hadi Luqmani, a community activist who signed a petition against Mazari said that they have followed up the case for at least a month before the Taliban acted.

The petition, according to Mr. Luqmani, was approved by a Taliban court and was sent to the district police by the criminal investigation unit at the Ministry of Interior.

Mr. Mazari was addressing a gathering of refugees in Iran’s Mashhad province on November 17, 2023, where he defended the Taliban’s Emirate despite its persecution and marginalization of Shia populations. In a video that circulated on social media, Mr. Mazari lauds the Taliban for closing down 960 brothel houses and 300 Christian churches which he claims were active in western Kabul during the former republic–he claimed that there were 500 churches around Kabul.

In the petition, a copy of which KabulNow has reviewed, the signatories say Mr. Mazari has accused the entire community of apostasy and adultery. They have asked the Taliban to punish him according to Sharia Law, which is 80 lashes.

The petition, which according to Mr. Luqmani, one of its organizers, was supported by community representatives and the clergy, also asks the Taliban to close Tabian Cultural Center and Afghan Voice news agency, the two organizations Mr. Mazari manages.

Mr. Mazari and the organizations he is affiliated with have not yet responded to the Taliban’s summoning of him, which has an ultimatum until 9:00 am tomorrow, Wednesday.

Many Shia clerics, including several notable faces, reacted harshly to allegations made by Mr. Mazari in Iran. Ayatullah Waez Zadah Behsodi, the most reputable Shia religious authority inside Afghanistan, lamented that the Taliban have resorted to arresting women instead of punishing the man who has accused an entire city of apostasy and adultery.

According to local sources who spoke to KabulNow, Mr. Waez Zadah was asked by the Taliban to speak at a community gathering in western Kabul that the group had orchestrated. In an audio recording of his address that KabulNow has received, he says the “true promotion of virtue and prevention of vice” is to subject Hussaini Mazari to 80 lashes according to Islamic Law.

Mr. Waez Zadah also issued a public statement interpreting Hussaini Mazarai’s remakrs as “reaching the peak of hostility against the [Muslim] believers in West Kabul.”  In the statement, he reminded the people of previous instances of prejudice against the Shia Hazaras who were persecuted on sectarian and ethnic basis.

The Afghan Voice Agency (AVA), a news agency associated with Mr. Mazari that publishes his speeches has taken down his address in Iran.