Afghanistan: Women human rights defenders arrested by the Taliban must be immediately released

Responding to the arrests of at least three prominent women human rights defenders Zarifa Yaqoobi, Farhat Popalzai and Humaira Yusuf and their colleagues by the Taliban in the last ten days, Samira Hamidi, Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigner, said:

“The recent wave of arrests of women human rights defenders in Afghanistan is yet another attempt to quell all forms of peaceful protests and any dissent against the Taliban’s oppressive policies that violate human rights, particularly of women and girls. Such arrests will no doubt increase the environment of fear and reprisal in a continuing system of repression that goes unchecked.

“As the de-facto authorities, the Taliban must comply with international human rights law and standards, and immediately and unconditionally release these women human rights defenders and their colleagues who have been arrested solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. We are further concerned about the safety and integrity of Zarifa Yaqoobi, Farhat Popalzai and Humaira Yusuf and their colleagues who have been detained. In the past, those arbitrarily detained under the Taliban have been tortured and otherwise ill-treated, many times denied access to legal remedies and family visits.

“The Taliban must be held accountable for their human rights abuses and violations as they continue to act with impunity. The international community must condemn these acts, both publicly and in their private interactions with the Taliban and send a clear message that their current policies towards women and girls are not acceptable.”

We are concerned about the safety and integrity of the women activists Zarifa Yaqoobi, Farhat Popalzai and Humaira Yusuf and their colleagues who have been detained.

Samira Hamidi

Background

On 4 November, Taliban detained women human rights defenders Zarifa Yaqoobi and her colleagues during a press conference announcing the formation of “Afghan Women Movement for Equality” in Dasht-e Barchi area of Kabul. Reportedly, about 60 Taliban members stormed the press conference venue to disrupt the event and deleted photos and video from cellphones of all event participants.

The next day, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on the arrests urging the de facto authorities to respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly without fear of arrest or intimidation.

On 5 November, in a press conference, the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the women’s rights activists ‘are being encouraged and told to protest and create distrust against the Islamic Emirate.’

On 8 November, prominent young activist Farhat Popalzai was arrested by the Taliban according to reports by the Afghan news agency Jaama Press. She is one of the founders of the ‘Spontaneous Movement of Afghan Women’.

On 13 November, another woman human rights defender, Humaira Yusuf, was taken into custody by the Taliban as per information from sources to Amnesty International.

This recent wave of arrests of women human rights defenders and peaceful protestors comes after months of suppression of the rights of women and girls in the country by the Taliban documented by Amnesty International and other civil society organizations. Women and girls have been barred from exercising their most basic rights, including the rights to freedom of movement, to education – as girls’ school beyond grade six remained closed – and political participation.