Afghanistan: Assault on peaceful protests highlight deteriorating space for civic freedoms

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS condemns the excessive use of force and arbitrary arrests by Taliban security forces as they crack down on protests in Afghanistan. Such actions highlight the deteriorating space for civic freedoms in the country and the need to ensure independent mechanisms to hold Taliban authorities accountable.

Since the Taliban seized control of Kabul last month there have been regular demonstrations around the country, often led by women. According to local media reports, on 4 September 2021 around a hundred women activists gathered close to the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul, carrying banners and chanting slogans for an equal society. To prevent them from reaching the palace, Taliban security forces fired their weapons into the air, sending protesters fleeing. They used tear gas and batons to disrupt the remainder of the protest. Some women were beaten by the Taliban during the protest.

On 7 September 2021 a protest in Kabul against Pakistan’s support to Taliban forces, including of airstrikes in Panjshir province, was disrupted by the Taliban who fired weapons into the air. A number of journalists were briefly detained and some were reportedly ill-treated. Dozens of women were prevented from participating in the protests by the Taliban. On the same day, at least five protesters were shot dead in the cities of Herat and Badakhshan by the Taliban, with dozens injured.

In August 2021 at least three people were killed and more than a dozen wounded after Taliban fighters opened fire during protests against the group in the Afghan city of Jalalabad. Two more people were killed in the city of Asadabad during anti-Taliban protests.

“Tactics used by the Taliban to disrupt peaceful protests are yet another violation of international law and standards to protect freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and those involved must be held accountable. Reprisals against journalists and media workers covering the protests likewise show the Taliban’s disregard for press freedom,” said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead for CIVICUS.

The Taliban have a track record of abusing human rights and attacking civilians with impunity. CIVICUS has documented attacks on civil society by the Taliban in recent years. Human rights defenders, particularly women, have faced threats for undertaking their work. Some have been abducted and killed.

Despite commitments by the new Taliban leadership to respect human rights, including the rights of women and girls and media freedom, there have been ongoing reports of threats against human rights defenders and activists, many who are have gone into hiding or are trying to flee the county. On 7 September, it announced an all-male caretaker government, despite promises of an inclusive government.

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.

“Despite urgent warnings from activists and civil society groups about the risks they now face under the Taliban, the international response has been extremely weak. It is crucial that UN member states at the upcoming UN Human Rights Council session support the adoption of a resolution creating an independent investigative mechanism on Afghanistan as a matter of priority,” said Kode

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Afghanistan as Repressed.