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Taliban make case for activist arrests, but deny they took place

Taliban forces deny detentions of female activists, but mobilise communications around hijab and traditional values


26 Jan 2022

On the night of January 19, Taliban fighters reportedly entered the homes of several female activists in Kabul. The incident attracted widespread media attention after one woman, Tamana Paryani, filmed herself inside her home, claiming the Taliban was at her door.

In the video, Paryani is heard saying “Help please! Taliban have come to our house in Parwan 2. My sisters are at home. We don’t want to talk. If you want to talk, come tomorrow, it’s night. No, no, we cannot open the door, please.” A second person in the room can be heard saying “They’re killing us”, after which Paryani stated: “Guard! Help!”. According to sources, including Associated Press (AP), Taliban members managed to enter her house and arrest her and her three sisters.

Figure: Screenshot of an Aamaj News post featuring the video posted by Tamana Paryani (Twitter)

There are reports that Paryani was one of around 25 women who took part in an anti-Taliban protest against the compulsory Islamic headscarf, or hijab, for women. According to AP, Paryani belongs to a rights group known as ‘Seekers of Justice’ who were responsible for organising the demonstration, as well as several others that have recently taken place in Kabul. Members of the group have not spoken publicly of Paryani’s arrest but have been sharing the video of her online.

On the same night, another female activist, Parwana Ibrahimi, was reportedly detained after her home was entered by Taliban forces. According to some online sources, one of the women has since been released. Sources also told the media that there have been similar searches of other female activists' homes and patrols of the areas they live in.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid denied any women were being held, but in an interview with AFP, said authorities had the right "to arrest and detain dissidents or those who break the law".

Another Taliban spokesperson, Suhail Shaheen, was also quick to push back on the claims in an interview with the BBC’s Yalda Hakim, in which he said: “The video released by female activist Tamana Paryani claiming the Taliban entered her home in Kabul and arrested her is fake. She and Parwana Ibrahimkhil have not been abducted. The video was made to assist with an asylum claim”. Despite Taliban denials, the whereabouts of Tamana Paryani and Parwana Ibrahimi remain unclear according to online sources.

The former spokesperson for the Kabul police and key Taliban influencer Mobeen Khan, shared two videos of the incidents, suggesting that the women heard in the video were ‘acting’. This sentiment was echoed widely by Taliban supporters, with others suggesting that the women had staged the scene in order to malign the Taliban and/or in support of an asylum claim abroad.

The spokesperson for the General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI), Khalil Hamraz, did not directly deny the claims but posted a Twitter thread stating:

Some people insult religious and national values in order to go abroad, make baseless accusations against Islamic Emirate and security forces and thus want to make their own cases to go abroad. Unfortunately, some so-called media outlets are also assisting them in spreading these allegations/lies. Insulting the religious and national values of the Afghan people will not be tolerated anymore. We hope that the media will refrain from spreading such propaganda in accordance with the principles of journalism”.

The Taliban appeared to frame the issue of the reported arrests in the context of recent protests relating to Islamic dress. On January 20, a Taliban-accompanied female-led protest took place in Kabul, where a large group took to the street to protest in favour of the hijab.

Figure: Screenshot of tweet reporting pro-Taliban protest in favour of burqa/hijab.

The female protesters carried larger banners with text stating: “Hijab is our Dignity, Hijab is our beauty, Hijab is our pride, we are happy with the Islamic government, and we support it” and “We don't want to be exposed, we don't want Democracy, we don't want humiliation, we are tired of democracy”. Further slogans included: “Long live Islam and Long live Islamic government”.

The protest was geolocated to Asmayi road in the second police district of Kabul:

Figure: Geolocation of pro-Taliban female protest using image.

In stark contrast to anti-Taliban protests led by women, the demonstration was guarded by armed Taliban, who cleared the streets for protesters.

On social media, a video appeared showing a woman in burqa saying: “Our unaware and ignorant sisters are trying to humiliate the Islamic Hijab under the names of human rights defenders and civil society activists. Our Hijab is not taken from another culture but taken from the Quran and the prophet’s saying. Their [women protesters’] clothing is not Islamic and they are copying Jews and Christians’ ways of dressing.”

Another video, posted on January 21, showed a woman calling on all women to wear the hijab. She asserts that the prophet preached about the importance of the hijab, and that women will be allowed to work and take part in society if they accept this.

A pro-Taliban male protest that took place in Kabul on January 21 also focused on the issue, with protesters statingWe want Sharia law” and "We want the hijab, even if we die for it". AW were able to geolocate the male protest to Abdul Haq square in the ninth police district. The same roundabout in Kabul was the scene of another pro-Taliban protest held on December 21 of last year, demanding the unfreezing of Afghan assets.

Figure: Geolocation of pro-Taliban male protest

In September, the Taliban banned all demonstrations in Kabul and other provinces that had not been authorised and approved beforehand, though campaigners have continued to protest. There have been a number of occasions where protests have been disrupted by Taliban authorities, for example, pepper spray was used to disperse women’s rights campaigners at a protest on January 16, with several protesters alleging that one woman had to be taken to hospital after the spray caused an allergic reaction in her eyes and face.

In January, there has been a notable uptick in female-led protests across the country, with demonstrations often held indoors to avoid confrontations with the Taliban. This trend appeared to emerge around November time, with demonstrations often filmed or photographed then posted on social media to spread awareness.

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