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Taliban beat protesters and arrest journalists at women’s rally in Kabul

“It’s completely wrong that they don’t think about us. We’re half of this society. They have to consider us,” said Mariam Shafaii, a 19-year-old student.

Women gather to demand their rights under the Taliban rule during a protest in Kabul on Friday

Women gather to demand their rights under the Taliban rule during a protest in Kabul on FridayCredit:AP

The Taliban signalled it was losing patience with demonstrations: ”For the past few days, a number of people in Kabul and other provinces have taken to the streets in the name of demonstrations, disrupting security, harassing people and disrupting normal life,“ the Interior Ministry said in a statement. “All citizens are informed that for the time being, they are not [to try] to hold demonstrations under any name or title.”

Shafaii was not deterred. “We will not keep quiet,” she said.

In another sobering turn, the Taliban has reinstituted a ministry for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice, which was notorious during the group’s 1996-2001 rule for its brutal enforcement of the Taliban’s ultraconservative brand of Islam. The ministry presided over the amputation of thieves’ hands and the stoning deaths of women found guilty of adultery.

“The Taliban were at a crossroads: choose a path that would mollify the international community … by being more open and inclusive, or they could have taken the easy path of appeasing their own rank-and-file and going back to what had worked for them in the 1990s,” said Ibraheem Bahiss, an Afghanistan consultant with the International Crisis Group. “They very much chose the latter.”

That choice was met with opprobrium, with many nations expressing their disapproval of a government made exclusively of Taliban. “The government certainly does not meet the test of inclusivity,” said US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in a press conference from Germany’s Ramstein Base on Wednesday. “We’re also concerned by the affiliations and track records of some of those individuals.”

Roughly half of the cabinet’s members are under US or UN sanctions. The acting minister of the interior, Sirajuldin Haqqani, is wanted by the FBI, which placed a $US5 million bounty on him. Blinken, however, said he would wait for “actions” to finally assess the government and determine its legitimacy and the future of US-Afghan relations.

On Wednesday, after 45 minutes of walking, the protesters in Kabul came upon a parked Humvee. Four Taliban fighters moved to push the women back. Despite the AK-47s they carried, the women swarmed towards them, shouting and arguing at the leader until he relented and allowed them to continue.

But other fighters near the Karte Char police station, close to the centre of Kabul, were less tolerant. There, another group of demonstrators shouted and toted signs before bewildered Taliban members, many of them young men from rural areas, where little of the West’s campaign for female equality has trickled down over the last 20 years.

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When two Los Angeles Times journalists approached, the fighters broke away from the protest and surrounded them, lunging for one of the journalists’ cameras. They then shoved them towards the police station, where a number of local journalists had already been detained.

“It’s not allowed to photograph these protests,” one of the Taliban leaders said after examining a media permit. “They are illegal, and you must delete any photos taken there.”

Another, younger Taliban fighter with kohl-lined eyes said it was forbidden to photograph women.

“Why are you doing this? This is against Islam,” he said.

Meanwhile, five journalists from Etilaat Roz, a local newspaper, remained inside the station; two of them had been arrested earlier, at the start of the protest. When an editor and two other Etilaat journalists came to the station to try to persuade the Taliban to release their colleague, they, too, were detained. Also taken into custody was a local producer with Euronews.

The Euronews producer was repeatedly slapped in the face by three of the Taliban members there, who took his phone and wallet, a colleague said. Both were returned when he was released, and he was otherwise unhurt.

The Etilaat reporters first arrested, video journalist Nemat Naqdi, 28, and 22-year-old video editor Taqi Daryabi, were spotted by the Taliban and told they didn’t have permission to film. They grabbed Daryabi and dragged him into the station; Naqdi managed to move away.

“They didn’t let me resist,” Daryabi said. He said he was shoved to the ground, tortured and beaten unconscious. He was taken to a yard and some water was poured on him. He was still there when they brought Naqdi.

“We were shouting that we are journalists. But they didn’t care,” Naqdi said. “I thought they were going to kill me … They kept on ridiculing us, asking if we were filming them.”

When the two journalists were finally told to leave, they couldn’t find their shoes. Their phones were eventually given back to them, but not Naqdi’s glasses. He said he could barely walk to the car. A video released later of Daryabi shows him unable to walk unaided, limping as he is supported by two of his colleagues.

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Pressure against the Taliban is rising on other fronts as well, notably in Panjshir, a province long locked in battle with the group. The Taliban announced its takeover of the province earlier this week. But National Resistance Front, or NRF, a grouping of anti-Taliban figures including Ahmad Massoud, son of the legendary Northern Alliance guerilla leader, said they were still fighting.

Ghani, the deposed president who fled the country when the Taliban reached Kabul, issued a statement from his exile in the Emirates on Wednesday saying that leaving the capital was “the most difficult decision of my life.” But he said he believed it was the only way to save the city and that he had no intention of abandoning the Afghan people.

“It is with deep and profound regret that my own chapter ended in similar tragedy to my predecessors — without ensuring stability and prosperity,” he said. “I apologise to the Afghan people that I could not make it end differently.”

That apology — observers drily noted that though Ghani said his speech was for the Afghan people, it was published only in English — had little effect on Daryabi, who is now confronting a more troubling power. “The Taliban haven’t changed a bit,” he said, adding that he was considering finding a way to leave the country.

Naqdi agreed.

“Absolutely there is no safety. Journalism doesn’t mean anything to them.”

Los Angeles Times

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