Increased threats against human rights defenders in Ghazni and Farah provinces


Human rights defenders at risk

Afghanistan human rights defenders (HRDs) including women human rights defenders (WHRDs) continue to receive threats by the Taliban, the so-called Islamic State (also sometimes referred to as Da'esh) and other state and non-state actors across Afghanistan. HRDs who have been speaking up against human rights violations, violence against women, corruption and transitional justice issues are more at risk. In 2018, dozens of HRDs have been attacked, threatened and displaced as a result of threats and attacks by both state and non-state actors.

In between May and August 2018, the province of Farah and Ghazni fell briefly into the hands of the Taliban, after weeks of bloodied fighting between them and the Afghan government. As a result of the fighting, thousands of civilians were displaced and fled the provinces while scores were injured or killed. 

Due to the breakdown of law and order in both provinces, human rights defenders including women rights defenders came under serious threat from the Taliban. Many human rights defenders feared for their lives and the lives of their families. Human rights defenders were not only concerned about possible attacks by the Taliban, but also by state agents in the province, who they had spoken out against in the past, as well as warlords. Local organisations, with the assistance of international NGOs, managed to evacuate nearly 70 human rights defenders and around 350 members of their immediate family to safer locations.

Attack on religious minorities

On 1st July 2018, a suicide bomber struck a crowd of Afghan Hindu and Sikhs in Jalalabad city who had gathered peacefully to meet with the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai during his visit to the province. The attack killed 19 and injured ten other people and among them some of the most prominent members of the community. Avtar Singh Khalsa, one of the representatives of Sikhs and a candidate for the upcoming parliamentary elections in October 2018, was among those killed. According to the BBC, the so-called Islamic State said it carried out the attack.


Violence against journalists continues

In the first seven months of 2018, media watchdog Nairecorded 70 cases of violence against journalists including killings, beatings, threats and other forms of violence across Afghanistan. According to their research, the Afghan government authorities including the police and intelligence agencies have been the main perpetrators of the violence while the Taliban and the so-called Islamic State came second on the list. Their research also found that the assassination of journalists in Afghanistan rose to 33 percent in the first four months of 2018 compare to the same period last year.

As previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, nine journalists were among at least 25 people killed in twin bombings in Kabul, Afghanistan on 30th April 2018. 49 others were wounded. 

On 11th July 2018, a Noor TV journalist and political programme presenter, RZ was attacked by unknown armed men in Kabul city's 6th district. He was on his way home, when the gunmen opened fire at him. As a result he suffered gunshot wounds but managed to escape. No one was arrested in connection with the attack and no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Parwan province imposes restriction on free speech

In July 2018, the Department of Information and Culture of Parwan province, imposed restrictions on free speech. A notice issued publicly on social media,  by the department stated that “people who are criticising the government and leadership of the country in the name of freedom of expression are considered as propagandists of the enemy. Such people who are undermining the provincial and central government authorities and who speak out against the government will be subject to a judicial inquiry”.

Peaceful assembly

The National Unity Government of Afghanistan (NUG) has attempted to limit the right to freedom of assembly of Afghans through various means including restrictive laws, judicial harassment and intimidation against civil society and political activists. Several demonstrations and strike or sit-ins have ended violently with no perpetrators brought to justice or held to account. Meanwhile, the Taliban and other armed insurgent groups, including the so-called Islamic State, continue to attack peaceful assemblies including demonstrations across Afghanistan.

Protesters killed in Jalalabad

On 25th August 2018, a suicide attacker killed at least three people by detonating explosives near the office of Afghanistan's election commission in the eastern city of Jalalabad, where dozens of protesters had gathered. The protesters had gathered in support of a parliamentary candidate who electoral officials had disqualified, over his suspected links with illegal armed groups. Eight people were also wounded. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

March for peace

In mid-May 2018, a small group of Afghans began marching from Helmand to Kabul to demand an end to 40 years of war and violence. The catalyst for their protest was a devastating suicide attack on an open-air wrestling match in Helmand's capital Lashkar Gah, in March 2018, which left at least 13 people dead and many more injured. The group's demands include a ceasefire between the Taliban and government forces, peace talks between the two sides and the withdrawal of foreign forces. 

On 18th June 2018, at least 65 activists arrived in Kabul where they were greeted by hundreds of well-wishers as they made their way across the Afghan capital with chants of "We Want Peace!" and "No War!". Though government officials, including the governor of Kabul and the city's police chief, came to greet the activists, the activists insist they have no political connections, nor have they accepted any government help. "This is our movement; we won't stop anyone from speaking, but it's by the people," says one of the activists when asked about the presence of officials.