Afghanistan sinks to worst rating in a new global report on civic freedoms16 March, 2023
- Afghanistan downgraded from ‘repressed’ to ‘closed’
- Activists face arbitrary arrest, unlawful detentions, torture and enforced disappearances
- Protests have been met with restrictions and violence
- Journalists have been arrested and attacked while media outlets have been forced to shut down
Afghanistan has been downgraded from ‘repressed’ to ‘closed’ in a new report by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global research collaboration that rates and tracks civic freedoms in 197 countries and territories. According to the report, People Power Under Attack 2022, under Taliban rule, civic freedoms in Afghanistan have severely declined.
‘Closed’ is the worst rating a country can receive by the CIVICUS Monitor. In reality, it means that an atmosphere of fear and violence prevails in Afghanistan, where people are routinely imprisoned and attacked for exercising their fundamental rights of freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression. China, Russia, and Iran are also rated closed.
Afghanistan has been a country of concern for some time; in September 2021, it was added to the CIVICUS Monitor ‘Watchlist’, a collection of countries where there has been a recent and rapid deterioration in civic freedoms. The continuous onslaught on civic freedoms by the Taliban has prompted the downgrade.
Since the Taliban takeover, there have been widespread reports of restrictions on civil society. Activists have been arbitrarily arrested and detained for their criticism of the Taliban. Others have faced harassment, intimidation, and violence and some have also been killed. There have also been abductions of women human rights defenders by the Taliban with impunity.
Civil society in Afghanistan has been almost entirely suffocated and there is very limited space for freedom of association. Civil society organisations (CSOs) have been targeted for their work and restricted by the Taliban. Following their takeover, there were raids and searches of CSO offices and their bank accounts were frozen. Women’s rights programmes were also halted by the Taliban. Many CSOs have been forced to close. Their staff have fled overseas or are in hiding and being forced to operate in secret.
“The ongoing repression of activists in Afghanistan by the Taliban, especially women human rights defenders, has left many living in a climate of fear of being arrested and worse being tortured and killed for their activism. Further, the crackdown on civil society and the discriminatory ban on women working for NGOs will have a devastating impact on the country. The continuous onslaught on civic freedoms by the Taliban has prompted the downgrade,” said Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Researcher for CIVICUS.
Women’s rights in Afghanistan are under severe attack. Despite this, women protesters have continuously taken to the streets to demand access to education and employment. Instead of engaging with them, the Taliban have disrupted these demonstrations with gunfire and beatings. In December 2022, the Taliban issued a letter barring women from working in international and national NGOs. Non-compliance will result in revoking the licenses of these NGOs, worsening the humanitarian crisis. Journalists have also been detained by the Taliban for covering protests.
The clamp down on journalists and media workers began in August 2021. The Taliban have raided media offices, confiscated equipment, and detained journalists. Some have been tortured and ill-treated. The Taliban has also imposed restrictions on the content that can be published or broadcast and many media outlets have been shut down. For the few independent news sources operating in the country, many journalists are self-censoring due to safety concerns.
“The Taliban must halt its ongoing crackdown on women’s rights and instead take steps to restore the rights of women and girls, including their rights to assemble peacefully. Reprisals against media workers likewise show the Taliban’s disregard for press freedom. Governments must do more to press the Taliban to ensure that everyone can exercise their civic freedoms and that those who violate these rights are held to account,” said Horia Mosadiq, an Afghan women human rights defender and founder of Safety and Risk Mitigation Organization (SRMO).
This concerning picture in Afghanistan is mirrored across the world; CIVICUS Monitor data shows that year after year, there is significantly less space for people to exercise fundamental freedoms: only three per cent of the world’s population lives in countries rated as ‘open’.
Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor, providing evidence and research that help us target countries where civic freedoms are at risk. The CIVICUS Monitor has posted more than 490 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2022.
Civic freedoms in 197 countries and territories are categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology that combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
Afghanistan is now rated ‘closed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor. There are 26 other countries that have this rating (see all). Visit Afghanistan’s homepage on the CIVICUS Monitor for more information and check back regularly for the latest updates.
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