Taliban fighters used whips and sticks against a group of women protesting in Kabul on Wednesday following the announcement of a hardline, male-only interim government, in the group’s latest crackdown on dissent in Afghanistan.
Videos and images received by CNN show the women chanting, “Long live the women of Afghanistan.”
Some held placards declaring “No government can deny the presence of women” and “I will sing freedom over and over.” Others held placards with the image of a pregnant police officer who was killed in Ghor province a few days ago. The Taliban told CNN they were not involved in her death, but have subsequently launched an investigation.
The fighters also beat a number of journalists covering the demonstration, according to witnesses.
This is just the latest case of female activists making a bold and public challenge to the Taliban’s rule. Women in hijabs joined protests in Kabul on Tuesday, the largest since the militant group seized power last month. A small group of women demonstrators also took to the streets of the Afghan capital over the weekend to demand equal rights, one of at least three small protests across the country last week.
One woman at Wednesday’s protest said: “We have gathered here to protest the recent announcement of the government where there are no women representation within this government.”
She said a few of the protesters were “hit with whips and they tell us to go to our homes and recognize and accept the Emirate. Why should we accept the Emirate while no inclusion or rights have been given to us?”
As she spoke, she held a poster saying: “A cabinet without women is a loser, a loser.”
She said a number of journalists who were covering the protest had been detained, and called for their release. “All those men who were here to carry out their duties as journalists were arrested. Why and how long should we put up with this?”
Another woman at the protest said the Taliban had “proved that they cannot change,” adding: “We are asking the international community, especially those who during the last 20 years tried to provide women with their rights, where are those defenders of women rights today?”
The women also said the Taliban had beaten youths watching the protest. One said that a “16-year old who left home to go to school, his school bag on his back, he was taken in and beaten up, he had bruises all over his body, his arms. He escaped but two or three Taliban were running after him.”
The editor of the online news outlet EtilaatRoz, Elyas Nawandish, posted photographs on Twitter showing images of two of his journalists who had been injured.
He wrote: “Taqi Daryabi and Neamat Naqdi, two reporters for @Etilaatroz have been severely beaten after being arrested by the Taliban. The reporters say they were each taken to separate rooms and then beaten by the Taliban. They were taken to hospital for treatment.”
Marcus Yam, a journalist with the Los Angeles Times who was covering the protest, said on Twitter: “While some tried to put their hands on me, there was one fighter that kept interfering and at one point muttered ‘foreigner.’ There were others standing around with their whips ready.”
The protests took place in Dasht-i-Barchi, an area of Kabul mostly inhabited by people from the minority Shia Hazara ethnic group, a group known to have been targeted by the Taliban in the past.
The Taliban have not commented on Wednesday’s protest.
The latest demonstrations come a day after the Taliban cracked down severely on scores of demonstrators who marched in Kabul on Tuesday.
‘Threat to stability’
No women, members of religious minorities or members of Afghanistan’s ousted leadership were selected for acting cabinet positions or named to advisory roles in the announcement of the interim government on Tuesday.
This comes in spite of the Taliban’s promises of an inclusive government and more moderate form of Islamic rule than when they were last in power two decades ago.
“We represent the whole of Afghanistan, and we talk on the level of the whole of Afghanistan and our struggle was based on the whole of Afghanistan. We are not people of one tribe or ethnicity, neither do we believe in this,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at Tuesday’s news conference, outlining the interim government.
Fawzia Kofi, a former Afghan MP, peace negotiator and women rights activist, accused the Taliban of going against what they had promised, referencing a meeting with a senior Taliban figure.
“When I [first] met Taliban, Shabudin Dilawar elaborated their version of Islamic rights for women saying no barrier for women to become minister/prime minister, they act in contrary. Was that to get political boost?” she tweeted.
The National Resistance Front in Afghanistan (NRF), an anti-Taliban group which has been battling the militants’ offensive in the Panjshir Valley, called the Taliban’s caretaker cabinet “illegal” and a “threat to stability and security of Afghanistan, the region and the world.”
“NRF believes that the establishment of a democratic, legal and legitimate government can only be achieved through the will and vote of the people in a general election that is also acceptable to the international community,” it said.
According to photos and videos shared on social media, activists who marched on Tuesday shouted in support of resistance fighters in Panjshir and chanted against Pakistan, which they view as meddling in Afghan affairs.
Witnesses estimated the crowd at between 300 and 500 people – many of whom were women wearing the hijab. The Taliban responded with gunfire, detentions and beatings.
Human rights group Amnesty International tweeted that it was “deeply concerned about reports on use of violence against peaceful protestors & journalists in Kabul by the Taliban.”
Human Rights Watch tweeted: “In yet another indication that #Afghanistan’s new rulers will not tolerate peaceful dissent, the Taliban again used force to crush a protest by hundreds of #Afghan women calling for their rights today.”
Concern over lack of inclusiveness
Disquiet over the interim government’s composition has been voiced both by Afghanistan’s neighbors and by global powers. The Taliban have given no indication of how long the caretaker government will remain in place.
The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said that “ignoring the need for establishing an inclusive government” was a major concern in a tweet Wednesday, Iranian state news agency IRNA reported.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said his country hoped “that the political situation stabilizes at the earliest, leading to normalcy.”
In pictures: Afghanistan in crisis after Taliban takeover
Speaking to regional leaders in Islamabad on Wednesday, Qureshi said the priorities for Afghanistan’s neighbors included supporting the Afghan people and embracing the importance of national reconciliation and the country’s multi-ethnic makeup.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China was willing to stay in touch with the new Afghan leadership but also indicated that minority rights should be respected.
“We hope that the new Afghan regime, during the period of the interim government, will listen to the opinions of all ethnic groups and parties, and respond to the expectations from the Afghan people and the international community,” he said, according to Reuters. “We noticed that the Taliban stressed that all people will benefit from the new regime.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Wednesday the Taliban’s actions were not cause for optimism as Germany assesses how to help Afghanistan’s people amid food shortages, aid stoppages and the threat of economic collapse.
“We are prepared to provide humanitarian aid through the United Nations, and we will continue to talk to the Taliban, if only to enable the people for whom we bear responsibility to leave the country,” he said.
“Any further engagement, however, will depend on the behavior of the Taliban. The announcement of a transitional government without the participation of other groups and yesterday’s violence against demonstrators and journalists in Kabul are not the signals that give cause for optimism.”
Maas was speaking ahead of a meeting with his US counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base, where thousands of people fleeing Afghanistan were flown in the massive US airlift operation last month.
The US State Department said Tuesday it was “concerned by the affiliations and track records” of some of those in the interim government. “We note the announced list of names consists exclusively of individuals who are members of the Taliban or their close associates and no women,” a spokesperson said.
While this has been presented as a caretaker government, the spokesperson said, “we will judge the Taliban by its actions, not words. We have made clear our expectation that the Afghan people deserve an inclusive government.”
EU spokesperson Peter Stano said in a statement sent to CNN that from initial analysis of the appointments, “it does not look like the inclusive and representative formation in terms of the rich ethnic and religious diversity of Afghanistan we hoped to see and that the Taliban were promising over the past weeks.”
Meanwhile, ousted Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said Wednesday that leaving Kabul as the Taliban entered the city on August 15 was “the most difficult decision” of his life. “It was the only way to keep the guns silent and save Kabul and her 6 million citizens,” Ghani said in a statement posted on his official Twitter account.
In the statement, Ghani also rejected as “baseless” allegations that he took with him millions of dollars belonging to the Afghan people. “These charges are completely and categorically false,” he said.
CNN’s Stephanie Halasz, Celine Alkhaldi, Jen Hansler, Sophia Saifi, Nic Robertson, Anna Coren and Hilary Whiteman contributed to this report.