In the Shadow of the White Flag; the Taliban Detain and Torture Civilians

By: Amin Kawa

Afghan residents are routinely subjected to arbitrary detentions, vicious retaliation, horrifying torture, and killings under Taliban rule. Without notifying their families, the Taliban continuously detain civilians in the manner of terrorist criminals and transport them to unknown locations. Detainees report that the Taliban‘s method of arrest is similar to that of kidnappers and professional thieves, with black sheets being placed over their heads and their hands being tied. The Taliban are able to capture and imprison civilians from various locations. Those who have been held captive by the Taliban claim that initially they believed they were being kidnapped, but when they opened their eyes, they found themselves in the Taliban’s torture facility and were asked strange questions by the group’s fighters. The latest report from Richard Bennett, the UN‘s special rapporteur on human rights, shows that the Taliban‘s antihuman rights tactics have resulted in extensive human rights violations and the displacement of nearly six million people.

Afghans still remember the Taliban‘s initial wave of persecution, repression, confinement, and torture facilities. When the Taliban regained control of the nation, these memories were not forgotten. HashteSubh interviewed several people who had been imprisoned and tortured by the Taliban. The inmates reported that they had been arbitrarily detained and subjected to violent beatings, humiliations, and insults. This report reflects the experiences of those who had been held by the Taliban for a period ranging from a few hours to a month. In some cases, those who had been held for several hours were released with their eyes tightly closed, while those who had been held in the Taliban prison for at least a month were freed in exchange for a monetary and demographic guarantee.

Residents who have voiced their worries to HashteSubh allege that the Taliban are arbitrarily detaining civilians from their homes, alleyways, streets, sporting grounds, schools, and stores both day and night without justification and transporting them to unknown locations. These inhabitants assert that those whose family members are detained by the Taliban are kept in the dark until they are released, which is why the majority of families have experienced mental health issues. These citizens go on to say that they are not exempt from anything.

The HashteSubh spoke with a few people who had been detained by the Taliban in places such as houses, bookstores, and alleys. Each detainee was employed in a different job, ranging from athletes to civil activists, professors, retailers, tailors, and students, all of whom had been detained without having done anything wrong and without their families being notified. They had endured the lethal, bitter taste of torture and humiliation, and some of them had even been forced to flee Afghanistan. Several families were deeply concerned about the future of the current situation and asserted that if their children or relatives were abducted by thieves and kidnappers at present, no one would be aware of it and the Taliban‘s activities were creating further opportunities for theft and kidnapping.

Recently, two brothers living in Kabul were detained by the Taliban. According to HashteSubh, neither of them are members of any political party, nor have they ever worked for the previous government. The relatives of the detainees claim that both of them were going about their daily activities when one of them was taken into custody from the street and the other from the stadium.

The family of Ahmad (a pseudonym) has reported that one of the two detained individuals was taken from the street outside their home, which is located near the residence of a Taliban representative. The Corolla they were in was filled with passengers, and when they arrived, the captors surrounded him, brandished a revolver, and tied his hands behind his back before covering his head with a black cloth and taking him away. After waiting for forty minutes, they set him down, searched his phone, and searched his person thoroughly, but found nothing. After five or six hours, they threw a map at him and released him on Kabul‘s front lawn. His brother, who has yet to be released, was taken from the camp and questioned about his activities, both past and present, as well as the date and time of his visit.

The Taliban‘s security officers detained many people, including Abdullah (a pseudonym), in a Kabul bookstore on October 1, 2022. In an interview with HashteSubh, Abdullah recalled that he was blindfolded without explanation and transported to the first district, where a driver arrived with a fleet of motorbikes and kept him there until midnight. The officers requested his smartphone, which was fortunately left in the bookstore, and they tortured him asking for his computer and phone. After two nights, he was driven to the 40 headquarters and severely tortured, leaving him with physical scars that still remain six months later. Prior to his detention, Abdullah was employed by a treatment center that provided aid to war victims in Andarab district.

Abdullah, who has painful memories of being severely beaten and tortured in Taliban prisons, states that he has encountered other prisoners who were businessmen and had to pay millions of Afghanis in cash as bail. He recounts,I spent 15 days in the 40th headquarters, where I was subjected to continuous torture until I was released on the promise of money and ethnicity. It was a harrowing experience. When I was detained at the 40th headquarters, there were some young men from Andarab, Panjshir, and Parvan provinces. When I was released from solitary confinement two days ago, I was the only one there who had little to no financial, political, or economic ties to the Taliban or other people. We did much of our work in the sector for women. Although I have not been involved in any government jobs, the inmates were bigtime businessmen. Before I was let out of solitary confinement, I spent the previous two nights with them. They each received demands ranging from 1 to 2 million AFN, which they dismissed due to their lack of understanding of the accusations. They were instructed to hand up the cash.”

Very few people are willing to speak to the media about their arrest using a pseudonym, and those who do are often plagued by anxiety of being arrested again. They anticipate being taken into custody once more. It is reported that the current situation in Afghanistan is one of homelessness, and even those with many dark stories are unwilling to speak out of fear of Taliban retaliation. Omid Faizi (a pseudonym) is a relative of one of the detained people who was taken prisoner by the Taliban in Herat around a month ago. In a conversation with HashteSubh, he stated:A cousin of mine has been kept prisoner by Taliban intelligence for more than a month; it is unknown if he is alive or dead, and no one is accountable for his location, the reason he was detained, or for what crime. Out of fear, my uncle has been unable to inform the media of these facts.” An exprosecutor who spoke with HashteSubh said that while he had a sorrowful memory of being detained by the Taliban and a bitter experience surrounding it, he disagreed with the release of the details and feared that the Taliban would receive the copy of this account.

The majority of Kabul‘s citizens are currently lamenting the oppressive and law enforcement conditions in the city. Matiullah, a resident of Kabul, expressed his sentiments to HashteSubh, saying:The atmosphere has completely changed, and no one is smiling anymore. There has been an increase in unquantifiable policing and spying, leaving people feeling scared of their own shadows. One cannot even trust their own friends. To put it simply, I have never seen anything like this before. I had heard through families that this group had killed dictatorial regimes. It is enough that surveillance and tracking have increased, with some people renting out their homes, moving, going to other parts of Kabul, or fleeing to the provinces.”

Before this, the citizens of the country had expressed their worries about the ongoing prevalence of theft in Taliban attire, asserting that the majority of robbers and abductors make use of Taliban tools and gear, making it difficult for onlookers to differentiate between Taliban soldiers and criminals. They allege that the Taliban apprehends people who are driving personal vehicles and wearing private clothing. These citizens are insisting that the Taliban safeguard their right to privacy, their dignity, and their fundamental freedoms. They are also insisting that the Taliban notify the accused or their families before arresting them when they are taken into custody.

Hundreds of prisoners are currently being held by the Taliban, primarily on suspicion of collaborating with the National Resistance Front and hailing from Panjshir, the Andrabs of Baghlan province, and other northern parts of Kabul. HashteSubh previously reported that these prisoners had been subjected to torture for months without any judicial intervention. The population of the country is particularly concerned about the current situation in Afghanistan, noting that no one can leave their home or travel freely and that everyone‘s emotional, psychological, and physical wellbeing is in danger. Richard Bennett, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Afghanistan, has expressed his concern about the current incident and its implications for the human rights situation in Afghanistan. According to Mr. Bennett, who will present a 19page report at the next meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, over six million people have been displaced from Afghanistan. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights has called for the basic rights of Afghans to be respected, in addition to criticizing forced migration and the Taliban‘s unfair treatment.