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No music. No hookah. No non-Islamic celebrations. How the Taliban are strengthening the ‘morality police’ in Afghanistan – Firstpost

An Afghan woman carries empty containers to collect water in the Nahr-e-Shahi district of Balkh province, Afghanistan, August 6, 2023. File Image/Reuters

Listening to music, smoking hookah and getting a Western-style haircut have all become punishable acts under the Taliban’s increasingly repressive rule in Afghanistan, a recent UN report has highlighted.

The Taliban’s so-called moral police, which works under de facto The Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (MPPVV), has severely curtailed human rights, particularly targeting women and girls, and created what the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) describes as a “climate of fear and intimidation.”

Founded in 2021 after the Taliban’s return to power, the MPPVV upholds the group’s strict interpretations of Islamic law. These include bans on activities deemed “un-Islamic”, such as displaying images of people and animals and celebrating occasions such as Valentine’s Day.

Between August 15, 2021 and March 31, 2024, the report released on Tuesday (July 9) documented at least 1,033 cases in which Taliban officers used violence to enforce their decrees. The MPPVV’s enforcement methods include verbal threats, arrests, detentions, beatings, and public lashings.

Enforcement of these rules is often inconsistent and unpredictable, contributing to the pervasive atmosphere of fear, the report said.

Taliban soldiers celebrate the second anniversary of the fall of Kabul on a street near the US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 15, 2023. File Image/Reuters

When the Taliban took control in August 2021 after the chaotic withdrawal of US-led troops, the group initially presented itself as more moderate compared to its 1990s rule. However, the UN report indicates that many of the same repressive rules have re-emerged.

What has the report revealed?

One of the first restrictions imposed by the MPPVV was a ban on women appearing in films, as well as banning the broadcast of films that reflect foreign culture and contain humor deemed offensive by the de facto authorities, the report said.

The report said the instruction also required female journalists working in the media to wear the Islamic hijab. It banned films that go against Sharia principles and Afghan values, as well as films and videos where men expose their bodies.

The MPPVV has also issued a number of instructions regarding appropriate appearance for men. The MPPVV instructed barbers not to cut men’s beards or to cut their hair in “Western-style” hairstyles, the report revealed. In December 2023, the morality police temporarily closed 20 barbershops for providing Western haircuts and beard shaving, releasing only two jailed barbers after they promised to follow Taliban rules.

Men have been instructed to observe congregational prayers in mosques. The report said failure to do so has sometimes led to serious penalties, including fines, suspension of businesses and corporal punishment.

Children of Taliban members hold toy guns on the second anniversary of the fall of Kabul on a street near the US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2023. File Image/Reuters

According to the report, the MPPVV has enforced a series of orders regulating behaviors and activities it has deemed “un-Islamic” or inappropriate, such as music and smoking
of hookah.

The report cited an example: On September 10, 2023, in Faryab province, the DPVPV arrested 29 students from Faryab University. They were accused of playing music in the dormitory during the engagement party of one of their classmates. DPVPV officials reportedly beat some of the students during the arrest and shaved their heads while in custody. They were released after 18 hours.

Also read: The Taliban crash weddings to punish those who play music

The UN report also notes the Taliban’s ban on public displays of human and animal images, resulting in the removal of billboards and signs for shop dolls. This has even affected non-governmental organizations, which have been tasked with removing human images from educational materials aimed at sensitizing children to the dangers of unexploded ordnance.

In Kabul, posters were put up on Valentine’s Day by the DPPVV to inform the public of the ban on all non-Islamic celebrations.

Women-centric restrictions dominate the MPPVV goals

The report also describes how MPPVV enforces strict dress codes for women and restricts their access to public spaces. Women-owned businesses have been arbitrarily closed, women have been banned from appearing in films and beauty salons have been closed. Access to contraceptives has also been limited.

An Afghan woman walks among Taliban soldiers at a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 6, 2023. File photo/Reuters

Women in Afghanistan face severe restrictions on their movement and activities. They are banned from accessing parks, gyms and public baths – the latter essential for hot water during the winter – and must be accompanied by a male guardian (mahram) when traveling more than 78 kilometers (48.5 miles) from home.

On November 12, 2022, in Nangarhar province, the DPVPV warned women that they could not visit a health clinic without a mahram. This requirement was then lifted after one month.

In addition, women must wear the hijab.

A mother holds her child as she rests in her arms, as women line up outside a medical room, at a hospital in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, March 2, 2023. File Image/Reuters

The report highlights the extensive surveillance state in Afghanistan, where the Taliban monitor people’s phones and cars for banned items, record mosque attendance and demand proof of family relationships in public places. The media is heavily restricted, which further contributes to the climate of fear.

Afghanistan is a party to seven international human rights instruments, which oblige the country to protect and promote the human rights of its citizens. The UN report states that the Taliban’s rules violate many human rights, including the right to work, freedom of movement and expression, and sexual and reproductive rights.

How have the Taliban reacted?

The Taliban dismissed the UN criticism as “unfounded”, and accused the report’s authors of evaluating Afghanistan from a Western perspective.

The Taliban statement argued, “Afghanistan should be judged as a Muslim society, where the vast majority of the population are Muslims who have made significant sacrifices for the establishment of a Sharia system.”

The Taliban also claimed that the media was free in the country and that there were no restrictions on journalists yet. “If any media outlet faced backlash, it was due to their illegal activities. In most cases, arrests of journalists had more to do with crimes other than their
journalistic data, the statement said.

The Taliban defended the practice of having a male guardian for women, saying that “the presence of mahram with a woman is not only an Islamic value; it is also a cultural value.”

The repressive control over women has led to an increase in suicide attempts, with CNN reports on a 16-year-old girl who drank battery acid to escape life under the Taliban.

In this photo released by the Taliban spokesman’s office, Zabihullah Mujahid, the main Taliban government spokesman who leads the Taliban delegation, center right, speaks with Russia’s presidential envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, during a meeting in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, June 30, 2024. Taliban spokesperson’s office via AP

Regarding the allegations that women were banned from parks and public places, the Taliban said: “As you can see, women are seen shopping and doing business in the markets these days. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has issued nearly 9,000 work permits to women since the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan took over.”

However, the Taliban added, “Only places where there is a mixed work environment are subject to restrictions,” citing safety concerns for women as well as “upholding its (Afghanistan’s) religious and cultural values.”

Also read: War across Torkham’s border? Why Pakistan and the Taliban are at odds

Regarding the “vices: music and hookah”, the Taliban said: “The two cases mentioned above are not in accordance with the nature of Afghan society; therefore, the government must take measures to prevent it in accordance with the people’s request.”

In June this year, the Taliban met top UN officials and global envoys in Qatar for a two-day conference that excluded Afghan women, sparking outrage from human rights groups.

Read the detailed UNAMA report, available in English, Dari and Pashto here

With input from agencies

Anmol is a senior sub-editor with Firstpost. He likes to cover stories that fascinate him, generally revolving around international politics, Indian foreign policy, human interest, environment and even the politically charged election cycles in India. He has way too many different interests with a constant itch for travel. Having visited fourteen states of the Indian subcontinent, he is always on the lookout for opportunities to add more to the list. He enjoys watching football, tennis and F1 purely as a sports enthusiast. see more

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