The lives of LGBTQ+ people in Afghanistan have “dramatically worsened” under Taliban rule, according to a new survey, which highlights cases of violence, gang-rape and death threats since the group seized power last year.
“Things were always rough,” said Heather Barr, associate director of the women’s rights division at HRW. “But people had found ways to survive and build community and support each other, and they had hope that things were gradually improving. On 15 August, all of that ended.”
Homosexuality was banned under Ashraf Ghani, the ousted president of Afghanistan, and punishable with prison. However, the HRW report said that the Taliban “vowed to take a hard line against the rights of LGBT people” and cited sharia law.
“We spoke with LGBT Afghans who have survived gang-rape, mob attacks, or have been hunted by their own family members who joined the Taliban, and they have no hope that state institutions will protect them,” said J Lester Feder, senior fellow for emergency research at OutRight Action International, who contributed to the report. “For those LGBT people who want to flee the country, there are few good options; most of Afghanistan’s neighbours also criminalise same-sex relations. It is difficult to overstate how devastating – and terrifying – the return of Taliban rule has been for LGBT Afghans.”
Zeba Gul*, 16, described to the Guardian how her life had worsened in the last few months. “I like to wear makeup, I like dresses, and I love to dance. But my family didn’t allow all that,” the teenager told the Guardian. “They would lock me up with chains and beat me. They would shave my head, tear my clothes and swear at me, calling me ezaak [a derogatory term for homosexuals].”
Gul described the horrors of growing up as a transperson in a deeply conservative country like Afghanistan.
Before the Taliban came to her town in western Afghanistan, she was tormented as an object of shame by her family, but after 15 August, the risk to her life became grave. “After the Taliban came to power, my family threw me out of the house. It is the peak of winter and I sleep in the parks. I have been attacked. I have been raped. The Taliban held me for three days and beat me,” she said. “I have no one [to care for me].”
Faraydoon Fakoori, at Paiwand 34, an organisation working to help gender minorities in Afghanistan, said: “Afghanistan has always been a conservative society, but after the arrival of the Taliban, the situation has worsened. We are seeing many cases of violence, harassment and even rape.”
Gul said: “The return of the Taliban empowered vigilantes, homophobes, and a lot of people nurturing long-term feuds. On 14 August, your ex-wife’s angry brothers, your spurned ex, your prejudiced neighbour or uncle might have felt like they wished they could harm you, but it wasn’t worth going to prison for. On 16 August, it was open season, with no fear of punishment.”
In 2021, a Taliban spokesperson told Germany’s Bild newspaper: “For homosexuals, there can only be two punishments: either stoning, or he must stand behind a wall that will fall down on him.”
*Name has been changed