The year 1402: A test of resilience for activists and journalists in Afghanistan

File-Photo, Afghan Women Protest

The solar year 1402 (March 2023 to March 2024) has unfolded as a challenging period for those advocating for women’s rights, human rights, civil society, and journalistic freedom in Afghanistan.

Throughout this tumultuous year, a significant number of women and girls found themselves behind bars for participating in protests, prompting a strategic shift among demonstrators to adopt more discreet forms of protest with their identities concealed.

As the year winds down, the fates of several key figures remain uncertain. Among them are Manizha Siddiqi, an outspoken advocate for women’s rights; Ahmad Fahim Azimi, Siddiqullah Afghan, and Rasul Parsi, who have tirelessly worked for educational rights; and Sultan Ali Jawadi and Aminullah Alami, journalists who dared to report amidst increasing constraints, all of whom continue to languish in Taliban custody.

The onset of 1402 saw a surge in public dissent, with women and girls leading the charge by vocalizing their demands for education, justice, and freedom on the streets. This wave of protests also included significant opposition to the Taliban’s restrictive policies on girls’ education.

However, the persistence of these protests prompted the Taliban to detain more demonstrators, particularly women and girls, in a bid to quell the unrest.

In a notable crackdown during the year’s sixth month, activists Malali Hashemi, Roqiya Saee, and Fatima Mohammadi were apprehended by Taliban forces. Saee has since found refuge in Germany, but the arrests failed to silence the voices of dissent. Instead, protests continued in more clandestine settings, away from the prying eyes of the Taliban.

On August 19, 2023, a nighttime operation in Kabul’s Khairkhane district resulted in the arrest of eight women. Despite being detained under the guise of “guarantee,” they were released after several hours. The ordeal of Nargis Sadat, who endured 58 days in Taliban detention, underscores the grim reality faced by protesters.

The subsequent months saw further arrests. On September 19, Neda Parwani was detained along with her family in Kabul, only to be released after 87 days. A similar fate befell Zhulia Parsi and her son, who were arrested on September 27 and freed after 83 days. Parisa Azada’s arrest on November 15 in the Dasht-e-Barchi area and her release in December highlight the ongoing risks for activists.

A notable incident involved Manizha Siddiqi, accused of desecrating an image of Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada and sentenced to two years in prison. The year’s end saw an uptick in arrests for alleged non-compliance with the Taliban’s hijab mandates, affecting numerous women across various regions.

Despite international condemnation, the Taliban have neither acknowledged nor ceased these arrests. The crackdown extended to education advocates, with Matiullah Wisa and others enduring prolonged detentions for their commitment to girls’ education and cultural enrichment.

Currently, Abdul Hakim Ulfat, Mohammad Hussain Dadgar, Rasul Parsi, Mohammad Fahim Azimi, and Siddiqullah Afghan, among others, remain imprisoned for their advocacy efforts. The media sector has similarly faced adversity, with 59 journalists detained throughout the year; Sultan Ali Jawadi and Aminullah Alami serve as stark examples, each sentenced to a year for their work.

The release of Mortaza Behbodi, an Afghan-French journalist, after 284 days in Taliban custody, serves as a rare glimmer of hope amid widespread repression.

As 1402 draws to a close, the global community, led by entities like the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, has sharply criticized the curtailment of freedoms in Afghanistan, particularly targeting women and the press.

The United States and the UN have made it clear that any recognition of the Taliban’s authority is contingent upon their adherence to basic human rights standards, especially those pertaining to women.