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Torture, murder, and rape; The fate of Balkhi protesting girls in Taliban prisons

On September 7 and 8, 2021, the Taliban attacked a women's protest march in Mazar-e-Sharif, taking more than 70 protesters, including 40 protesting girls. The bodies of eight detainees were found on the streets of the city one week later. The rest of the detained girls and boys were released by their families’ pressure after approximately 45 days, but the fate of the nine girls remains unknown. Five of the detained girls were killed by their families after being released from Taliban custody.

The detention of girls in Mazar-e-Sharif and the fate of protesting girls who were held in the Taliban detention center were never reported in the media due to their families' intense fear of the Taliban and the sensitivity of the issue in traditional Afghan society. However, four months after the detention of the protesters, some of them are willing to talk about what happened to the detained protesters with one condition; their identity should not be disclosed. 

A woman's rights activist from Balkh, who took part in the September street protests in Mazar-e-Sharif and witnessed the arrest of the girls, is one of those witnesses. For a long time, she attempted to free the detained girls, but was forced to flee the city due to serious Taliban threats.

According to the source, the girls were detained for a week at the police district four and then transferred to the Mazar-e-Sharif National Security Detention Center, where they were questioned and tortured for two weeks before being transferred to the Mazar-e-Sharif Women's Prison. "Many of these girls were released while not in good physical or mental condition, however, nine remain unaccounted for. The released girls report that the Taliban have transferred the nine missing girls to the Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul."

An unnamed civil activist living in Mazar-e-Sharif confirmed the details of the incident in an interview with The Farsi Independent, saying she had been following the incident closely and had spoken with several girls after they were released from Taliban custody. According to her, the released girls have confirmed that the Taliban transferred nine of their companions to an unknown location. She also said that a few days after the arrest of the protesting girls and boys in Mazar-e-Sharif, on September 10th, 12th, and 16th, she saw the bodies of six protesting girls and boys on the streets where they lived. "In the same days, other bodies were found in other parts of the city," the source added. "Including the bodies of a female police officer, a female doctor, and a student who took part in the protests."

What happened to the protesting girls in the Taliban prison?

The source who spoke with The Independent said she met at least four of the girls after they were released from Taliban custody. She described the situation of the detained girls as "horrendous," saying the girls were severely tortured and repeatedly gang-raped. The girls told me that a woman would strip them completely naked and torture them with electric batons and whips them in the National Security Detention Center," the source said. "She gave the girls psychedelic pills by force and then the Taliban gang-raped them." They also said eight of their companions died in detention after being tortured.

According to the source, five of the girls were killed by their families after being released from Taliban captivity. She said one of the girls was a relative who met her when she was released from Taliban custody. She added "I told her family that you should share this story through the media so that your daughter's oppression can be exposed, and that you can then file a lawsuit, but they kicked me out of their house with insults and humiliation, and a few days later I learned that their daughter had been killed by her own family. When I asked why they said that the girl had been raped; "She could have been pregnant."

The source who spoke to The Independent also confirmed the killing of the five girls in the early days of their detention. She added that a number of families had fled Afghanistan due to Taliban threats and social pressure after their daughters were released from Taliban captivity. The source referred to an acquaintance who was among the released detainees "I met her when she was suffering from memory loss due to torture and electric shock, and she had deep wounds on her body." " She confirmed that she had been raped several times." Her family left Afghanistan for Iran after this incident.

The Persian Independent source also met with a number of detained boys after their release: "The boys I met were tortured, alike girls. "They said the Taliban had raped them."

 

Utilization of detained girls as Taliban informants

Another issue cited by the source is the forced recruitment of detained girls as informants for the Taliban. She explained that some of the girls who were released by the Taliban had been issued Taliban intelligence cards and that the Taliban had released them under the condition that they serve as informants.

She said: "Nine of the unreleased girls refused to spy, and the Taliban transferred them to an unknown location. It was reported they were taken to Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul, but it is unclear whether they were taken there or killed."

Recent reports indicate that the Taliban has recruited women as informants in Kabul. In Kabul, Taliban soldiers recently appeared in front of women protesters with a list of women's names and identities, threatening to identify all demonstrators and to arrest and torture them if they continue protesting. This was exactly the list that was shared between the WhatsApp girls' contact groups. It is the presence of women as informants among women's protest groups that explains how this list, with similar characteristics, reached the Taliban.

A women's rights activist in Kabul who did not want to be identified told The Independent Farsi that the Taliban forces a number of protesting women and girls to serve as informants for them by threatening them or their families.

Since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, women have expressed the greatest opposition to the Taliban’s decisions and actions. Despite traditional beliefs about women and the status of women as the honor of families, young women in Afghanistan have protested against injustices despite the opposition of their families. Most of the time, families do not want to discuss what happened to the female member of the family during the protests or after they were arrested by the Taliban due to the threat they face by the Taliban. 

There is a reluctance among families and victims of Taliban violence to speak to the media about their stories due to the harsh censorship of the media and the Taliban's harsh treatment of those who criticize the group on social media. In addition, no organization or media outlet has had access to the group's prisoners in the five months since they took over Afghanistan. The fate of many of the victims, particularly the protesting women of Mazar-e-Sharif and the military officers of the former government of Afghanistan who has been detained by the Taliban for five months, is also unknown.

Alia Azizi is one of these victims. She was employed as a police officer and as a staff member of the Herat Women's Prison when she was called to work by the Taliban in early October and then disappeared. Arif Rezaei, Alia's brother, told The Independent Farsi that he had not heard from Alia for the past four months and that the Taliban had not provided a clear explanation to Alia's family. Arif Rezaei added: "There have been rumors that Alia was transferred to Pul-e-Charkhi prison, but there has been no confirmation."

Afghanistan has been subjected to unprecedented levels of repression and suffocation due to the Taliban's lack of accountability to human rights organizations and international organizations' failure to pursue kidnapping, arrest, and execution cases in the country.

Nilofar Langar

Independent Persian

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