Photo: Laura Kammermann

Shias Face Persecution Under Taliban Rule in Afghanistan, Says US Commission

VANCOUVER, CANADA – A new report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) paints a grim picture of religious freedom in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. The 2023 annual report, released yesterday (May 1st), reveals that Shias continue to face harassment, violence, and restrictions on their religious practices.

The Taliban enforces a strict interpretation of Sharia law, violating the religious freedom of those with different interpretations of Islam and minority groups, according to USCIRF. The report identifies the Taliban’s Ministry of Vice and Virtue as the body responsible for enforcing these harsh interpretations.

One example cited in the report is a letter issued by a Taliban governor in Badakhshan in February 2023, prohibiting marriage between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Additionally, the Taliban banned the teaching of Jaafari jurisprudence and forced private universities to remove religious books that don’t conform to Hanafi jurisprudence.

The commission further details the Taliban’s interference with religious observances.  For instance, they declared April 21, 2023, as Eid al-Fitr and pressured Shia Muslims to break their fast at checkpoints and in vehicles. Restrictions on Shia mourning rituals during Muharram and the prevention of public celebration of Eid al-Adha are also highlighted as examples of these limitations.

The USCIRF report, citing the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), highlights the targeted killings of Shia clerics between October and December 2023. The report acknowledges the overall instability caused by the increase in terrorist attacks by groups like ISKP, which primarily targeted Taliban members but also Shia communities, including Hazaras. Specific attacks mentioned include the October 2023 bombing in Balkh that killed 17 Shia worshippers and the November explosion in Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi that killed seven.

The report doesn’t solely focus on Shias. The USCIRF details the severe restrictions faced by non-Muslim communities – Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians – including limitations on clothing and attire, and a ban on celebrating religious holidays.

The Commission urges the U.S. government to designate Afghanistan under Taliban rule as a “country of particular concern” due to its systematic and ongoing violations, and to make religious freedom a central tenet of all its discussions with the Taliban.

The USCIRF recommends further actions, including imposing sanctions on Taliban leaders directly responsible for religious freedom violations. Additionally, the Commission suggests expanding the existing Priority 2 (P-2) designation within the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). This expansion would explicitly include Afghan religious minorities facing extreme risk of persecution.

The Taliban has yet to respond to this report, having consistently dismissed reports from international organizations regarding human rights violations, including religious freedom, as “propaganda.”