From Torture to Sexual Assault and Murder: What’s Happening in the Taliban’s Women’s Prisons?
By Ismail Sadat
Female prisoners in Taliban-controlled prisons in the provinces of Jowzjan, Faryab, and Samangan are enduring a deplorable situation. They face humiliation, insults, physical torture, and sexual assault. According to the findings of Hasht-e Subh Daily, since the collapse of the Republic regime, the Taliban have detained and imprisoned 90 women in the three northern provinces. Out of these, 36 women are in Faryab province, 34 women are in Samangan province, and another 20 women are in Jowzjan province. These women have been subjected to inappropriate treatment by the Taliban in prisons over the past year.
According to the findings of Hasht-e Subh Daily, in the women’s prisons of these three provinces, 10 women are engaged in physical checkups, cleaning, and guarding during the day. However, there are no female guards present during the night. As a result, Taliban militants, who have been documented by Hasht-e Subh Daily, take on the security responsibility of these prisons at night and are involved in sexually assaulting female prisoners.
According to the findings of Hasht-e Subh Daily, out of the 90 female prisoners in Jowzjan, Faryab, and Samangan provinces, 16 of them have become pregnant due to repeated sexual assault and have undergone abortions in local clinics. Health sources in Faryab and Samangan provinces have confirmed that the Taliban ordered the termination of these women’s pregnancies during the third and fifth months. Testimonies from prisoners who experienced mistreatment by the Taliban reveal that female prisoners in the northern provinces were coerced under Taliban pressure to fulfill the sexual desires of certain local Taliban officials against their will. One released prisoner affirms that at least four female prisoners in Samangan province fell seriously ill as a result of repeated sexual assaults by Taliban members and were ultimately executed by the Taliban.
According to information obtained from sources within Taliban women’s prisons in the northern provinces, the majority of these women are imprisoned for various reasons such as moral corruption, theft, fraud, and elopement. Reliable sources confirm that out of the 90 female prisoners in Faryab, Jowzjan, and Samangan provinces, 33 of them have not received any visits from their families since their incarceration. These sources indicate that their families might be unaware of their current situation.
Healthcare workers in the gynecology departments of Faryab, Samangan, and Jowzjan hospitals have informed Hasht-e Subh Daily that in the past year, 48 women who experienced severe bleeding due to physical torture and sexual assault were brought to these hospitals for treatment by Taliban members. According to these sources, the doctors were never permitted by the Taliban members to conduct thorough examinations in these instances.
Hasht-e Subh Daily has maintained the confidentiality of the sources’ identities, and to protect the interviewees from potential security threats, their names are not disclosed in this report.
The Situation of Female Prisoners in Faryab Province
The Hasht-e Subh Daily’s findings reveals that there are currently 36 women imprisoned in Faryab province. The Taliban has detained these women on different charges, and they are serving their sentences in prison. While some of these women were transferred to prison on September 10, 2021, many of them have had their criminal cases left unprocessed over the past year. Notably, none of these women’s cases have been referred to any court for investigation.
According to an anonymous security source from the Faryab Provincial Security Command, most of these women have been detained on suspicion of moral corruption, theft, fraud, and the accusation of girls fleeing from home. The source explains that the absence of criminal cases has led to the indefinite detention of these women. Out of the 36 women prisoners in this prison, 21 of them have not had their cases processed. Some of these women have been detained and transferred to this prison six months, eight months, and even a year ago. These 21 women are those whose relatives have not visited them since their initial arrest. Under the previous government’s prison procedures, the defendants’ cases were sent to the judiciary within three months. Despite nearly two years of Taliban rule in the country, they have not implemented any specific laws or procedures for pursuing the cases of suspects.
A source within the management of Faryab province’s prison confirms that special guards from the Provincial Security Command, the Intelligence Chief, the Commander of the Army Unit, and several other Taliban officials take some of these female prisoners out of the prison at night. After experiencing sexual abuse, they are returned to the prison. However, the source does not specify the location where these women are taken at night.
A monitor from a human rights organization, operating anonymously due to security threats, supervises cases of violence against women and human rights violations in Faryab province. The source has confirmed to the Hasht-e Subh Daily that in the past eight months, Taliban officials have committed eight individual sexual assault cases and six group sexual assault cases against female prisoners in this province. According to the source, an international organization has documented these cases. The source explains that both high-ranking and lower-level Taliban forces enter the women’s prison blocks at night and sexually abuse the female prisoners.
However, a female doctor from the gynecology department of the public hospital in Maymana city, who wishes to remain anonymous, informed the Hasht-e Subh Daily that the Taliban have covertly transferred multiple women to the hospital during the night. These women have experienced bleeding as a result of sexual assault, and the doctor observed visible signs of torture and sexual abuse on them. The doctor explained that these patients were placed in isolated rooms within the hospital for treatment, separated from other patients. According to the source, four to five armed Taliban militants would guard these patients, restricting interaction with nurses and doctors.
The doctor stated that the Taliban transferred thirteen female prisoners to the gynecology department of the hospital after sexually assaulting them, and these women underwent abortions. Most of these women had their pregnancies terminated within the first three months and were then taken back to prison.
The situation of women prisoners in Samangan Province
Sources within the Samangan General Prison Administration has informed the Hasht-e Subh Daily that in the last year, Taliban forces have detained 34 women on suspicion of criminal acts and transferred them to this prison. Among them, 12 prisoners have not received visits or had their cases pursued by their relatives. These 12 women have been in a vulnerable situation in prison for the past seven months without any progress in their cases.
According to the organizational chart of the Samangan Security Command, there are 10 female police officers assigned to oversee the women’s prison in the province. However, sources reveal that only three of them are actively involved in physical checkups and administrative tasks, and their role in prison administration is limited. It is worth noting that these female staff members do not have night duties due to the absence of a legal guardian, resulting in male Taliban forces taking charge of the prison during nighttime.
Sources from Samangan Provincial Hospital report that Taliban militants have brought seven women prisoners who experienced severe physical torture and sexual abuse to the hospital for treatment in the past six months. Furthermore, according to a female doctor, three pregnant women have been transferred to the hospital by the Taliban during this period to undergo abortions.
What does a Released Prisoner say?
A recently released female prisoner from the Taliban’s prison in Samangan province shares her account of sexual assault by a commander and members of the group. Farishta (pseudonym) was arrested by Taliban forces at a security checkpoint in the village of Rubatak, situated between Samangan and Baghlan provinces, on August 24, 2021, while traveling from Aybak City to Kabul. She was charged with moral corruption, although she intended to escape the country by flying from Kabul’s airports.
Despite her attempts to leave the country, 20-year-old Farishta was captured by Taliban militants. She endured a two-week detention under the Taliban’s security command in Aybak City. Farishta recounts experiencing sexual assault three to seven times at night by Taliban militants during that time. Afterward, she was transferred to the province’s central prison.
This young girl has been in the Samangan Central Prison for seven months and shares disturbing accounts of sexual abuse and exploitation of female prisoners by the Taliban. Farishta discloses that after the Taliban assaulted her in the security command’s detention center in the city of Aybak, she had no choice but to comply with their demands out of coercion. She says that newly arrived female prisoners were severely beaten and tortured to fulfill the sexual desires of the Taliban militants. Subsequently, they were left with no choice but to accept their demands. Farishta states that these female prisoners were left with no option but to submit.
Continuing her harrowing account, Farishta reveals that during her seven-month imprisonment, Taliban militants shot and killed at least four female prisoners from Baghlan, Balkh, and Jowzjan provinces. These women had been detained by Taliban authorities in Samangan province on charges of moral corruption, and their families were unaware of their fate. Farishta explains that these women were secretly taken to the residences of senior Taliban commanders at night to fulfill their sexual needs. However, their health deteriorated rapidly, and after 15 days as instructed by the prison manager, they were ultimately killed by gunshots. Farishta recalls hearing about their deaths labeled as “Discovery of Unidentified Bodies” within the prison.
Eventually, a Taliban commander intervened and facilitated Farishta’s release from prison through a deal. As a condition of her release, she had to surrender a personal land deed valued at over 300,000 Afghanis to a prominent Taliban figure. After enduring seven months of imprisonment, Farishta has been set free and currently resides in a different province, separated from her family.
Several visitors to Samangan’s central prison share similar stories. Lailma (pseudonym), a 31-year-old woman and one of the visitors to the women’s prison in Samangan province, shares with Hasht-e Subh Daily that her sister is incarcerated in this prison for aiding a neighbor’s daughter in escaping from home. Lailma’s 26-year-old sister was arrested approximately seven months ago, and Lailma visits her once a month.
Lailma further mentions that her sister’s case has not been taken to court in the past seven months. The Taliban has instructed Lailma and her family to locate the neighbor’s daughter, whom they are not familiar with, as she is believed to have escaped with their daughter. Lailma’s sister has attested that the Taliban forcibly move several young girls and women out of the prison during the night, only to return them before sunrise.
The situation of female prisoners in Jowzjan Province
The central prison in Jowzjan province currently holds 20 women prisoners. The details of their identities and alleged crimes remain undisclosed. Similar to the situation in Faryab and Samangan provinces, these women encounter challenges as their cases are not being presented in court. Only a small number of them have been able to secure their release through agreements or significant payments.
Although our efforts to gather additional information from reliable sources have been unsuccessful, a source at the central hospital in Jowzjan province confirms that they have treated at least 15 women from the women’s prison in Jowzjan who had suffered physical torture in the past year. The source further reveals that six of these women were transferred to the hospital’s gynecological department following incidents of sexual assault.
The source also reveals that the Taliban brought these women to the hospital and ensured their protection for four to seven days. However, the source explains that the Taliban prohibited the proper documentation and registration of these patients in the hospital’s daily registration database.
The discussion of sexual assault against female prisoners is not new. Reports of physical mistreatment of women prisoners have emerged in various cases over the past twenty years.
Female prisoners in the provinces of Faryab, Samangan, and Jowzjan face a precarious situation due to the Taliban’s disregard for the law. As a result, many of these prisoners’ cases are not being processed, and the resolution of other cases is not being forwarded to the courts. In a public gathering in August of last year, the Taliban announced the cancellation of all previous laws in the country, including the constitution and penal code. However, they consider only certain parts of the constitution from the era of Mohammad Zaher Shah, the former king of Afghanistan, which does not conflict with Islamic principles, to be enforceable. This law was enacted in the year 1301 of the Solar Hijri Calendar (1922/1923).
Currently, human rights organizations are not permitted by the Taliban in the northern part of the country to monitor women’s prisons. Prior to the collapse of the republic regime, there were at least six safe houses for women in these three provinces. However, all of these houses have now been shut down. The whereabouts of women released from Taliban prisons are uncertain, as they lack safety even within their own families.
However, local Taliban officials in the provinces of Faryab, Samangan, and Jowzjan have not provided any comments regarding the allegations of sexual assault and physical torture of female prisoners. Nonetheless, they have consistently emphasized their commitment to Sharia and Islamic laws in their approach to handling criminals.
Furthermore, as reported by the news website “Washingtonexaminer,” the Taliban has been using sexual assault and forced marriage as tactics to intimidate Afghan women following their takeover of Afghanistan. The report features the harrowing story of two teenage girls who recently escaped Taliban captivity. Leslie Merriman, a coordinator of a mobile clinic supported by an American organization, recounted the traumatic experiences of these two young Afghan girls who were repeatedly sexually assaulted by Taliban militants every night. Merriman revealed that the two girls, who went by the pseudonyms Fereshta and Anisa to protect their identities, were abducted and beaten by Taliban militants before being subjected to sexual violence.
The report states that Taliban militants abducted Fereshta in the province of Parwan twenty days ago. One of the militants had plans to marry her, but when she refused, she was held captive in a house where she endured nightly sexual assaults by multiple Taliban members. However, she was able to escape with the assistance of a woman who provided her with food and water in that house.
In February of last year, Taliban militants abducted Aneesa in the province of Kapisa. She experienced multiple instances of sexual assault during the approximately 20 nights she was in captivity with the Taliban militants.
Finally, these two girls are receiving medical treatment at a free mobile clinic and currently staying in one of the safe houses. The mobile clinic is financially supported by the organization “Flanders Fields.” According to an American news outlet’s website, which cites the coordinator of the mobile clinic, Fereshta and Anisa are reported to be in the early stages of pregnancy after they escape from the Taliban. The Hasht-e Subh Daily has been unable to independently verify these recent events in the provinces of Parwan and Kapisa.
All this news is coming out, while, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a detailed report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan on September 6 this year. In the report, Richard Bennett, the UN Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, expresses concerns about the Taliban’s self-imposed torture and detention, as well as cases of harassment, intimidation, vigilante justice, and the conversion of Taliban commanders’ houses into personal prisons. The report confirms the existence of private prisons in the houses of Taliban commanders and verifies instances of torture and unlawful killings. The UN Special Rapporteur states that since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and the annulment of the country’s constitution, “there is no law in this country, and each Taliban member issues orders based on their interpretation of Islamic law.”