Afghanistan September 2021


Afghanistan added to watchlist as attacks on fundamental freedoms escalate following Taliban takeover

Johannesburg, 23 September 2021

  • Anti-Taliban protests have been met with excessive and lethal force
  • Journalists covering the protests have been detained and tortured
  • The Taliban have carried out home raids looking for activists and journalists, particularly women

Afghanistan has been added to a watchlist of countries that have seen a recent and rapid decline in fundamental civic freedoms. Since the Taliban takeover on 15 August, civic space has been repressed, and human rights defenders and civil society members who remain in the country are at grave risk. There have been systematic raids on the homes of activists and staff of NGOs, and anti-Taliban protests have been met with excessive force.

The new watchlist is released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, across 196 countries. Other countries on the current watchlist are Belarus, Nicaragua and the United Kingdom.

Since the Taliban seized control of Kabul, there have been regular protests around the country, often led by women. The Taliban have responded to many of these demonstrations with gunfire and beatings to disperse crowds, leading to deaths and injuries of peaceful protesters. Anti-Taliban protesters have been reportedly killed in Kabul, Herat, Badakhshan, Jalalabad and Asadabad.

On 4th September, around a hundred women activists gathered close to the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul, carrying banners and chanting slogans for an equal society. Taliban security forces fired their weapons into the air to prevent the protesters from reaching the palace. They also used tear gas and batons to disrupt the remainder of the protest. Some women were beaten by the Taliban during the protest.

“Tactics used by the Taliban to violently disrupt peaceful protests are a clear violation of international human rights law. Governments must press the Taliban to uphold the right of everyone to peacefully protest and to ensure the protection of activists, especially women,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher for the CIVICUS Monitor.

Between 16 August and 13 September, the Taliban conducted raids on women-led NGOs across Afghanistan; in some cases, they have confiscated their vehicles and sealed their offices. In a Western province, a prominent woman rights defender reported that the Taliban was now controlling her office and using it as a military post.

Journalists have also been under increased risk. At least 14 journalists were detained by the Taliban while covering protests in Kabul in early September 2021. Of those journalists, at least nine experienced violence while in detention. There have also been numerous reports of journalists’ homes being raided and many print, broadcast and digital news outlets that have been shut down.

Despite this grave situation, a resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council during its Special Session on 24 August completely failed to effectively address grave human rights violations in the country.

“The international community must take proactive steps to provide immediate practical support and protection to human rights defenders, journalists and civil society activists at risk. It must also support calls for an independent Human Rights Council mechanism to investigate human rights violations on the ground and further accountability”, said Horia Mosadiq, an Afghan women human rights defender and founder of Safety and Risk Mitigation Organization (SRMO). 

Afghanistan is currently rated REPRESSED by the CIVICUS Monitor. There are a total of 45 countries in the world with this rating (see all). This rating is typically given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights (see full description of ratings).


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