A Mountain on My Shoulders: 18 Months of Taliban Persecution of LGBTIQ Afghans
February 14, 2023
The Taliban’s return to power in August 2021 left many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) Afghans fearing for their lives. Hundreds sought to leave the country with help from foreign governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), while many who chose to stay or could not leave went into hiding at home.
The Taliban’s first year of rule by force in Afghanistan demonstrates that LGBTIQ people’s fears were not unfounded. Between September and October 2022, Outright International interviewed 22 LGBTIQ Afghans, all of them currently in Afghanistan. Their accounts suggest that Taliban security officials now appear to be pursuing LGBTIQ people – especially gay men and trans women – more systematically than in the first few months of Taliban rule, subjecting them to physical and sexual assault and arbitrary detention. In several cases, the authorities have subjected people to public flogging for alleged same-sex relations, and the Taliban Supreme Court, on social media, has confirmed and defended the implementation of these punishments.
This report follows an initial report published by Outright International and Human Rights Watch in January 2022. That report, “Even If You Go to the Skies, We’ll Find You”: LGBT People in Afghanistan After the Taliban Takeover, was based on interviews with 60 LGBTIQ Afghans conducted shortly after the Taliban’s return to power. They shared stories of beatings, sexual assault, or threats from Taliban members or supporters because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. While that report documented some abuses clearly linked to the Taliban security forces, in many cases the first threats came from those closest to LGBTIQ Afghans – family members, romantic partners, and neighbors – who saw Taliban rule as an opportunity to act on their own prejudice or sought to curry favor with the new regime by turning in LGBTIQ people.
Here are some select interviews:
Taliban security officers pulled Shahnaz, a 22-year-old trans woman, out of a car at a highway checkpoint between two major cities. They interrogated her about her hair and traces of nail polish she had been unable to wipe off before her trip. They proceeded to cut her nails and shave her head. They did so without water or lubrication, which one of her captors said would “teach him to live like a man with a proper masculine hair style.” They left her head patchy and bleeding, she said, and then “some of them beat me for their fun.” Then, she said, they told her, “if you are not gay, prove it and call someone to collect you.” Fortunately, she knew someone in the area who agreed to escort her away from the Taliban soldiers.
Pari, a 48-year-old gay man, was an outreach worker for an organization that provided HIV services in a major city when the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan. Just a few weeks into the new regime, Pari said, a group of Taliban fighters visited the organization’s offices and beat the security guards. The organization immediately halted all operations out of security concerns, leaving Pari without a job.
Fatima, a 26-year-old lesbian, has an uncle who is a prominent religious leader allied with the Taliban. Her uncle and eight Taliban soldiers came to her family’s house in August 2021, shortly after the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan. Fatima successfully hid behind bags of wheat as the men searched the house, and the men beat her father and broke his arm when they couldn’t find her. She was also forced out of her job in a local university and replaced by a man who is a Taliban loyalist.
Farzad, a 21-year-old trans woman, was on her way to a date on 23 July 2022 when two men dressed like Talibs, who used walkie-talkies and drove black Ford Ranger style cars generally used by Taliban members, stopped her on the street. They demanded she go with them. When she refused, they grabbed her and said, “What, do you think we don’t recognize you? Now is the time we rip your roots from the earth.”
Nasira, a 25-year-old trans man, had fled his family in the provinces and was living in a group house for students in a major city when the Taliban retook power. On 19 August 2022, Nasira’s uncle showed up at his house with some of his other relatives and tried to drag him out. Nasira said his uncle broke down the door of the kitchen where he was hiding and began to beat him.
Khandan, an 18-year-old trans woman, and another friend agreed to dance at a party in February 2022 in exchange for 1,000 Afghani, an amount equal to about US$12. “When we went to the party we realized it was a trap,” Khandan said.
“We tried to run but we couldn’t – [the persons hosting the alleged party] took us to the Taliban.” Their captors took Khandan and her friend’s cellphones and bound their hands, insulting them and beating them with a whip.
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