The United Nations is calling for the immediate release of Afghan women’s-rights activist Zarifa Yaghubi and four of her male colleagues, who have been indefinitely detained after their arrest last month.
The arrests are among several arbitrary detentions documented by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) since the Taliban took control of the country in August, 2021, according to UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Jeremy Laurence. Mr. Laurence also warned that subsequent arrests of other women’s-rights activists have been reported since Ms. Yaghubi’s detention.
“Since the Taliban takeover, UNAMA has raised concerns both publicly and with the de facto authorities regarding the arbitrary nature of arrests and detentions, the limitations imposed on civil society and the media, and the lack of accountability for human-rights violations,” Mr. Laurence told The Globe and Mail.
On Nov. 3, women’s-rights advocate Ms. Yaghubi and four male colleagues were participating in a news conference in Kabul announcing the formation of the Afghan Women’s Movement For Equality, a new platform that promotes women’s rights and gender equality in Afghanistan.
Approximately 60 Taliban members from various agencies – including the General Directorate of Intelligence, the Taliban’s spy agency – stormed the conference and detained the activists, according to local and international Afghan reports.
The authorities also detained the remaining female participants in the conference room for about an hour and reportedly conducted body searches, and examined the women’s cellphones, Mr. Laurence said.
The four male human-rights activists arrested alongside Ms. Yaghubi are Reza Sazish, Mohammad Sirat, Alim Halimi and Hussein, according to Shahhussain Rasuli, of Hasht-e Subh Daily, an independent, non-profit newspaper in Afghanistan.
In a Nov. 5 news conference, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the arrests and said that Ms. Yaghubi and other human-rights activists “are being encouraged and told to protest and create distrust against the Islamic Emirate.”
“This is the only statement that we’re aware of,” Samira Hamidi, South Asia regional campaigner for Amnesty International, told The Globe. “The Taliban said that Ms. Yaghubi and the other women human-rights defenders [were] disrupting national security and getting orders from the West,” she said.
Despite both national and international condemnation and a call for the immediate and unconditional release of these activists, the Taliban has not made any information available, added Ms. Hamidi.
In recent days, Afghan media outlets have reported that more women’s-rights activists – Zainab Rahimi, Farhat Popalzai, Homira Youssef and Parvin Sadat – were arrested by the Taliban in different parts of Kabul for protesting against the regime’s policies on women, such as the right to education, work and general human rights.
A number of local reports say that Ms. Rahimi was released a few days after her arrest. “We were talking to Zainab Rahimi before her arrest, but we did not try to communicate with her after she was arrested because she is still being investigated by the Taliban,” said Mr. Rasuli.
Despite the Taliban’s initial promises that women would be able to exercise their rights within Sharia Law, the Taliban have systematically excluded women and girls from public life – including banning most teenage girls from attending school, as well as imposing restrictions on what subjects women can pursue at public universities.
Women have responded by protesting against the increasing infringement of their rights. This, in turn, has resulted in arbitrary arrests from the Taliban.
“Dozens of women protesters who were arbitrarily detained in the last year since the Taliban reclaimed power have testified that they were tortured and given forced convictions. We fear the same might be the fate of the currently detained activists,” said Ms. Hamidi.
Mr. Laurence said it is evident that there is a climate of fear in Afghanistan preventing the loved ones of those detained from sharing information about their cases. Because of this, information on Ms. Yaghubi and her colleagues, as well as the more recent detentions, has been difficult to confirm.
He said that since the arrests, UNAMA has met with Taliban representatives to inquire about the charges against these individuals and the reasons for their continued detention.
UNAMA has also requested that family members and UN Human Rights Office staff be granted access to visit the detainees and that the agency is concerned about “the lack of transparency regarding the charges against the individuals.”
“Any limitations imposed on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly must be lawful, necessary and proportionate to protect national security, public safety, health, morals or the rights and freedoms of others,” said Mr. Laurence.
“With regards to arrests and detentions, detainees must be brought before a judicial authority promptly after arrest, they must be granted access to lawyers, medical care, contact with the outside world and all other rights to which they are entitled.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, also called for the immediate release of the women’s-rights activists in a recent social-media post. “All Afghans have the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression and opinion – a right that must be respected by the Taliban.”