Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Date: 10 September 2021
Peaceful protesters across various provinces in Afghanistan over the past four weeks have faced an increasingly violent response by the Taliban, including the use of live ammunition, batons and whips. On Wednesday, 8 September, the Taliban issued an instruction prohibiting unauthorized assemblies. Yesterday, Thursday, they ordered telecommunications companies to switch off internet on mobile phones in specific areas of Kabul.
As Afghan women and men take to the streets during this time of great uncertainty in their country to press peacefully for their human rights to be respected – including women’s right to work, to freedom of movement, to education and political participation – it is crucial that those in power listen to their voices.
We call on the Taliban to immediately cease the use of force towards, and the arbitrary detention of, those exercising their right to peaceful assembly and the journalists covering the protests.
Protests have been taking place since 15 August and were increasing in number until Wednesday evening’s instruction on the prohibition of unlawful assemblies. Reports indicated a growing resort by the Taliban to force against those involved in or reporting on the demonstrations.
From 15 to 19 August, people gathered in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces to mark national flag-raising ceremonies. According to credible reports, during these three days when protests took place, the Taliban reportedly killed a man and a boy, and injured eight others, when firing in an apparent attempt to disperse the crowds. On Tuesday this week (7 September), during a protest in Herat, the Taliban reportedly shot and killed two men and wounded seven more. That same day in Kabul, credible reports indicate that the Taliban beat and detained protesters, including several women and up to 15 journalists.
On Wednesday, 8 September, reports emerged that as a largely female group of demonstrators gathered in the Dashti-Barchi area of Kabul, at least five journalists were arrested and two severely beaten for several hours. There were also reports that during a demonstration in Faizabad city in Badakhshan province held by several women, including activists and human rights defenders, the Taliban fired in the air and allegedly beat several of the protesters. A small group of women who had gathered to protest elsewhere in Kabul were violently dispersed, as the Taliban fired shots into the air over their heads. That same day, women were violently dispersed during protests in Kapisa and Takhar provinces, and several women’s rights activists in Kapisa were detained.
We recall that peaceful protests are protected under international human rights law, including under Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Afghanistan is a State Party. A safe, enabling and non-discriminatory environment for the exercise of human rights must be ensured, including freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Blanket restrictions on peaceful assemblies constitute a violation of international law, as do blanket internet shutdowns which usually violate the principles of necessity and proportionality. Journalists involved in reporting on assemblies must not face reprisals or other harassment, even if an assembly is declared unlawful or is dispersed. Under international human rights law, there is an obligation to ensure that any use of force in response to protests is a last resort, strictly necessary and proportionate and firearms must never be used except in response to an imminent threat of death or serious injury.
Rather than banning peaceful protests, the Taliban should cease the use of force and ensure the freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, including as a means for people to voice their concerns and exercise their right to participate in public affairs.
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