Afghanistan | Taliban targeting LGBT people


Anti-war protest in Canada by members of the Afghanistan diaspora (Pic: Meandering Images / Shutterstock)

Human rights groups say that LGBT Afghans and people who do not conform to rigid gender norms in Afghanistan face an increasingly desperate situation and grave threats to their safety and lives under the Taliban.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch and OutRight Action International released a disturbing 43-page report based on 60 interviews with LGBT Afghans.

Many of those interviewed reported that Taliban members attacked or threatened them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Others reported abuse from family members, neighbours, and romantic partners who now support the Taliban or believed they had to act against LGBT people close to them to ensure their own safety.

Some fled their homes from attacks by Taliban members or supporters pursuing them. Others watched lives they had carefully built over the years disappear overnight and found themselves at risk of being targeted at any time because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Taliban, which retook power in August last year after American troops left Afghanistan, espouses a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, which includes execution as a penalty for homosexuality.

“We spoke with LGBT Afghans who have survived gang rape, mob attacks, or have been hunted by their own family members who joined the Taliban, and they have no hope that state institutions will protect them,” said J. Lester Feder, senior fellow for emergency research at OutRight Action International.

“For those LGBT people who want to flee the country, there are few good options; most of Afghanistan’s neighbours also criminalise same-sex relations. It is difficult to overstate how devastating – and terrifying – the return of Taliban rule has been for LGBT Afghans.”

Afghanistan was a dangerous place for LGBT people well before the Taliban retook control of the country on 15 August 2021. In 2018, the government of then-President Ashraf Ghani passed a law that explicitly criminalised same-sex sexual relations, and the previous penal code included vague language widely interpreted as making same-sex relations a criminal offence.

However, when the Taliban, who had been in power from 1996 to late 2001, regained control of the country, the situation dramatically worsened. The Taliban reaffirmed the previous government’s criminalisation of same-sex relations, and some of its leaders vowed to take a hard line against the rights of LGBT people. A Taliban spokesperson told Reuters in October, “LGBT… That’s against our Sharia [Islamic] law.”

A Taliban judge told the German tabloid Bild shortly before the fall of Kabul, “For homosexuals, there can only be two punishments: either stoning, or he must stand behind a wall that will fall down on him.” A manual issued by the Taliban Ministry of Vice and Virtue in 2020 states that religious leaders shall prohibit same-sex relations and that “strong allegations” of homosexuality shall be referred to the ministry’s district manager for adjudication and punishment.

Despite making repeated pledges to respect human rights, Taliban officials and their supporters have carried out acts of violence against LGBT people with impunity.

A gay man, Ramiz S, said that Taliban members detained him at a checkpoint, beat him, and gang-raped him, telling him, “From now on anytime we want to be able to find you, we will. And we will do whatever we want with you.”

A lesbian named Brushna said that after the Taliban takeover, her male relatives joined the Taliban and threatened to kill her because of her sexual orientation. She was forced into marrying a man who beats her and doesn’t let her leave the house after he was told that she is lesbian.

“I’m afraid he will kill me, or my uncle’s son will kill me,” Brushna said in a brief phone call while her husband was out of the house, the only time she was able to make calls.

Most people interviewed believed their only path to safety was asylum in a country with greater protections for LGBT people, but very few LGBT Afghans escaping Afghanistan are known to have reached a safe country. Only the United Kingdom has publicly announced that it has resettled a small number of LGBT Afghans. Organisations assisting LGBT Afghans say that hundreds of people have contacted them, seeking international protection and resettlement.

“The Taliban have explicitly pledged not to respect LGBT Afghans rights,” said Heather Barr, associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.

“It’s critically important for concerned governments to urgently put pressure on the Taliban to respect the rights of LGBT people, ensure that assistance they provide Afghanistan reaches LGBT people, and recognise that LGBT Afghans seeking asylum face a special risk of persecution in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries.”

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