Floggings. Women banned from parks. ‘This is Taliban 2.0?’

Women are banned from going to the park. Women are banned from going to public female baths. Women are banned from going to gyms.

In the lead-up to Friday’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and more than a year into its rule, the Taliban have imposed these restrictions and others.

The laws put in place earlier this month are only part of the painful narrative for Afghan women since August 2021.

It has now been three weeks since the capture of four women’s rights activists and protesters against earlier restrictions under the Taliban’s policy. Despite the demands of the international community, the Taliban have refused to release them from prison.

“People inside the Taliban may claim that they have changed their rule compared to the ’90s,” says Fawzia Koofi, the former deputy Speaker of Afghanistan’s parliament in the Republic era.

“It is naive to expect the Taliban to change.”

In the past two weeks, the Taliban’s leader has brought back flogging. After this order from Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban flogged 23-year-old Arezu and 26-year-old Mohammad Eisa in Bamyan province, on charges of extramarital sex.

It’s expected that hand amputation and public execution will soon return as well.

In Takhar, 10 men and nine women were flogged in public on charges of theft, adultery and running away from home. A boy and a girl were whipped in Badakhshan, accused of being in a relationship and communicating by phone, and three women and nine men were flogged on charges of “adultery and robbery” in Logar province.

The Supreme Court of the Taliban said in a newsletter the men and women each received 21 to 39 lashes. “We implemented Shariah law.”

“By whipping these people, it becomes a lesson for others,” the Taliban statement added.

After more than a year of Taliban rule, their leader, has not appeared in public or in the media, but decrees are issued in his name.

Koofi said that in applying punishments known as hudud, the Taliban are returning to their past. Under Shariah law, hudud crimes (apostasy, revolt against the ruler, theft, highway robbery, adultery, slander and drinking alcohol) carry penalties that include the amputation of hands and feet, flogging, and execution.

But many Islamic countries have abandoned the implementation of hudud and have considered other punishments.

“Part of the change we see in society does not mean a change in the Taliban’s views, particularly about women, but it is a change in people, because they do not do everything that the Taliban say,” the former deputy Speaker and prominent defender of women’s rights said via WhatsApp.

Koofi said that if the world wants to pressure the Taliban over its policies toward women, which include closing girls’ middle schools — financial aid should be conditional on respecting human rights, especially women’s rights. (Canada has suspended aid but other western countries, including Germany, are providing millions in humanitarian aid through organizations such as the World Food Programme. In addition, about USD$2 billion in cash has been sent to Afghanistan through the UN since August 2021, with little clarity on how it’s been spent.

“More sanctions should be imposed on the travel of the Taliban and sanctions should be imposed on businesses in which the Taliban are involved.”

Mawlawi Habibullah Hussam, a well-known anti-Taliban Islamic scholar, says that what the Taliban apply in the name of Shariah, especially to women, is based on tribal beliefs, and has nothing to do with Islam and the Qur’an.

“The distance between the Taliban and Islam is between the earth and the sky,” Hussam told the Star, speaking in Persian.

He said the Taliban’s position on women is unchanging, and that they use women’s rights as a bargaining chip with the international community.

The president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, said in a speech Monday that the rights of Afghan women are increasingly under threat and their lives are on hold.

“The world will soon witness the return of executions, stoning, flogging and amputation in Afghanistan. The Taliban want women to become invisible and the achievements of the past years are disappearing,” she added.

Richard Bennett, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, said the situation has deteriorated.

“Afghans, in particular women, didn’t expect support in perpetuity from the world. But nor did they expect to be dropped off a cliff 14 months ago.”

Bennett said the rollback is even greater than the first era of the Taliban in the ’90s, because of the great achievements that Afghan women gained post-2001.

“There is a huge regression in the rights of women and girls. The reversal is probably unprecedented in history,” Bennett said via WhatsApp.

Afghan women hold placards during a protest in front of Kabul University in October after female students were kicked out of dormitories for allegedly breaking rules.

But for Latifa — a woman protesting on the roads of Kabul who experienced 15 days in a Taliban prison months ago because of her demands for women’s rights — these international responses are meaningless and she believes it has no effect on the Taliban’s behavior toward women.

Latifa, who asked that her name not be used due to concerns about her safety, said that when the world was excitedly talking about the change from Taliban 1.0 to Taliban 2.0, she was being tortured.

“When the representatives of the powerful countries and the international organizations are dressed according to the principles of the Taliban and drink coffee and laugh with the Taliban officials, then we can’t expect the Taliban to change,” Latifa told the Star in Persian. She was referring to recent visits by foreign female representatives, in which they observed a kind of dress code.

Latifa said the Taliban is returning to its earlier brutality. She said that with these restrictions and punishments of women, the Taliban are showing their real face to the world.

“We do not have the right to go to school, park, bath and gym. We have no right to protest. We are tortured in prison. Does the world think that this is the change of the Taliban and this is the Taliban 2.0?

“Afghanistan has become a big prison for us, and the world is just watching.”

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