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Torture and human rights violations: The Taliban's treatment of prisoners

In August 2021, the Taliban took over Kabul. It was chaotic, military forces were everywhere. Both women and men were detained over various issues that the Taliban regime blamed them for.

In August 2021, the Taliban took over Kabul. It was chaotic, military forces were everywhere. Both women and men were detained over various issues that the Taliban regime blamed them for.

Detainees who were detained in prisons like Pul-e-Charkhi, Bagram and different prisons across the country, were also left in chaos. It is said some of the detainees had been returned to the prisons by the Taliban, except the members of the Taliban who had been detained during the democratic regime.

According to research compiled by the Human Rights Watch report 2022, during many operations, soldiers assaulted civilians and detained people without due process. Detainees have been forcibly disappeared or killed, in some cases by beheading. In some provinces, Taliban authorities dumped bodies in public areas or hung bodies on streets or intersections as warnings.

Many people have been detained including Hassib Ehrare, a poet from Panjshe, Murtaza Behboudi, an Afghan-French journalist, Alia Azizi, the head of security in Herat prison, and more. Worryingly, no one knows where these particular people are detained, or what is going on with their lives.

Since the Taliban took over, many people have been detained for various spurious reasons: from criticising the Taliban regime to accusations involving former government members (despite the Taliban announcing amnesty to everyone who worked for the interior government).

Manizha Ahmadi was one of the women’s rights activists who participated in many demonstrations in Kabul streets and advocated for women’s basic rights blocked by the Taliban. The Taliban detained her in Kabul 9 months ago on the grounds of accusing her of working in the previous government and for allegedly promoting sex work in her community.

They arrested her while she was passing a mobile monitoring checkpoint of the Taliban in Kabul. While they were looking at her mobile, they saw photos that showed she had participated in the demonstrations, and as a result took her into police custody.

“I was detained for three days, and the experience of these days was terrible, even talking about it is not easy for me," said Manizha Bakhshi.

“I was beaten with different things like a stick and cable and twice the guy who was responsible for the women's shift and criminal head of the police custody obligated me to have sexual relations with him (raped me)," added Manizha.

Once every 24 hours, they provided her with a meal, and gave her permission to use the bathroom twice which was accompanied by the appointed guard.

“The guard who was accompanying me was harassing me and touching me by force. I wish they wouldn't call me for using the bathroom," said Manizha.  

She was ultimately released by bond and guarantee put forward by elder community representatives. Manizha's detention was not as long as defence lawyer Hussain Haidary, who spent over four months in a Taliban-run prison.

Before the Taliban took over in Herat province, he had defended many cases as a defence lawyer. After the Taliban take over, along with his wife who was a university lecturer and kids, left their city without knowing their destination only to save their lives and took refuge in a village in their city and were living in a hugger-mugger.

The pair left the village after a short period and went to Nimroz province to pass the Iran border illegally. From Iran, the plan was to move to Turkey, but the Taliban arrested him from the border as he was with a group of men and his family with women as the human smuggler divided them into two groups to pass the border. They kept him for four months underground with 20 other detainees.

“During these four months they did not transfer us to the prison and we were detained under the detention of their national security," said Hussain.

“The experience of my detention was horrible, from electrical shock to tightening one hand and leg to the back, putting the stone on the abdomen, wrapping it with a wet duvet, and being beaten. Also, they were well experienced in giving different types of torture," added Hussain.

They suspected Hussain was a former military member; they did not realise he was a legal defence lawyer. He also did not have access to any basic services like clean drinking water.

“I have seen four persons lose their lives right in front of my eyes because of tortures and the wounds they had," added Hussain.

After four months, they released him as they could not find anything to prove he was a former military member or defence lawyer and even did not give him any documents. Then he moved to Kabul and left the country by passing the Iranian border from Herat in a wheelchair. His family had already arrived in Turkey.

Zarifa Yaquobi, a member of Afghanistan's Change Wave Party, spent 41 days in the directorate of forty of the Taliban National Security in Kabul.

Zarifa Yaqoubi is the Founder of Women’s Movement Afghanistan, and while she was holding a program for the inauguration of her association, the Taliban members arrested her.

“I was given electrical shock, whipped, insulted and mentally tortured during my detention. Also, I did not have access to the lawyer, healthy food, water, hygiene kits, and a proper place to sleep. Even the clothes that my family brought for me to wear they did not give it to me," said Zarifa.

Zarifa was released after pressure from human rights organisations, paying money, and guarantee of the community elders and her family. Zarifa is worried about the continuation of human rights violations by the Taliban.

“The Taliban announced 39 orders for repressing women in Afghanistan and they see Democracy and human rights as against their beliefs that’s why Afghanistan lost the golden opportunity of development," added Zarifa.

Based on the first principle of the Nelson Mandela Rules, all prisoners should be treated with respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings. All prisoners shall be protected from torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment for which no circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as a justification.

The experience of Roqya Asee, who intended to be a military officer before the Taliban took over to feed her orphan kids as she lost her husband in a fighting with the Taliban years ago is different. She was detained two times and experienced different types of torture.

The first time they detained her was after a protest that criticized the regime for ordering different rules and banning women’s work and participation in different aspects of society.

“The Taliban soldiers came, and I mounted in a taxi abruptly, but they stopped the Taxi and checked my phone when they saw my phone content (photos and videos). They told me to take her out of the Taxi, that she is also a slave of the West, and took me to their vehicle and hid my head with a black textile pouch,” said Roqya Asee.

They took her to the 3rd police district and transferred her to an unknown location after the investigation by the police directorate there.

“During these days I was tortured a lot even when it comes to mind, my body trembles,” said Roqya.

They released her by bond and guarantee and took a commitment from her to be silent and not say anything to criticize their regime. After months of silence as she saw the tough rules of the Taliban she decided to reparticipate in the demonstrations.

“I was chanting the motto about the importance of girls education in one of the main streets in Kabul. One of their fighters took the loudspeaker from my hand and threw and pushed me into their vehicle,” added Roqya.

This arrest happened during the month of Ramadan. Community elders interfered and negotiated with them because her kids were without any caretakers. They released her, but not until they had recorded a blackmail-style video of her confessing that she would no longer criticize their regime in any way.

Mursal Ayar, who is a reporter, has the same experience of torture like her other mates who participated in the demonstrations in Kabul streets. She is not optimistic about the human rights situation in Afghanistan.

“They are not respecting human rights in Afghanistan and there is happening every type of human rights violations,” she said.