Taliban must immediately release women human rights defenders, say UN experts

GENEVA (31 October 2023) – UN experts* today demanded the immediate release of women human rights defenders Neda Parwan and Zholia Parsi, who have been detained by Afghanistan’s de facto authorities for over a month.

The two human rights defenders are affiliated with the Women's Spontaneous Movement. Neda Parwan’s husband and Zholia Parsi’s adult son have also been placed in custody. No reasons have been provided for their arrests, the experts said, but others have been arrested in similar circumstances for exercising their fundamental right to engage in peaceful protests.

“The release of Ms Parwan and Ms Parsi and their family members from detention is an urgent matter. After more than a month in detention, we are increasingly concerned about their physical and mental wellbeing,” the experts said.

They underscored the importance of upholding the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, a fundamental tenet enshrined in international human rights law and warned that individuals must not be deprived of their liberty merely for expressing dissenting views and for exercising their legitimate rights. Women human rights defenders are particularly at risk and are more likely to be targeted because of their gender.

“The Taliban seem to be continuing to intensify their restrictions on civic space, especially through silencing of the voices of women and girls, thus creating a chilling effect.” the experts said.

“We urge the de facto authorities to demonstrate respect for freedom of expression, freedoms of movement and association including the right to engage in peaceful protest, in line with Afghanistan’s international obligations under human rights instruments ratified by the State,” the experts said.

A month after their arrest, Neda Parwan and Zholia Parsi and their family members have yet to be charged with a crime or brought before a court. They have not been granted access to legal representation.

The experts welcomed the recent release of Mortaza Behboudi, an Afghan-French journalist, and Matiullah Wesa, the founder of the civil society organisation Pen Path, who ardently champions the right to education.

“We urge the de facto authorities to also release the women rights defenders and their family members without further delay, as there is no justification for their detention,” the experts stated.

The experts: Mr. Richard BennettSpecial Rapporteur on AfghanistanMs. Mary LawlorSpecial Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders,  Ms. Reem AlsalemSpecial Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, Ms. Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Ms. Ivana Radačić (Vice-Chair), Ms. Elizabeth Broderick, Ms. Meskerem Geset Techane, and Ms. Melissa Upreti,Working Group on discrimination against women and girls.