Weeks after four female anti-Taliban activists went missing, presumed detained, Afghanistan’s “de facto authorities” have released them.
Tamana Zaryabi Paryani, Parwana Ibrahimkhel, Zahra Mohammadi and Mursal Ayar went missing after participating in an anti-Taliban rally last month, which saw roughly 25 women protest against the compulsory Islamic headscarf in the national’s capital, Kabul.
The new Taliban-ruled government has consistently denied detaining them.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) announced the release of the activists on Twitter overnight:
“After a long period of uncertainty about their whereabouts and safety, the four ‘disappeared’ Afghan women activists, as well as their relatives who also went missing, have all been released by the de facto authorities.”
Since last August, when the Taliban seized control and the former government collapsed, the organisation, led by de facto ruler Haibatullah Akhundzada, have clamped down on dissent by shutting down women’s rallies, arresting critics, jailing protesters and even assaulting local journalists covering protests. In January, women protesting to demand their rights were pepper sprayed by Taliban forces.
Parwana Ibrahimkhel and Tamana Zaryabi Paryani were reportedly abducted from their homes on January 19, just days after they took part in a rally in Kabul calling for women’s right to education and work.
Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied the claims that women were being held, though added that his authorities had the right “to arrest and detain dissidents or those who break the law”.
“Nobody should create turmoil because it disrupts peace and order,” he told Agence France-Presse at the time. “We are not allowing illegal activities.”
Weeks after the incident, fellow protesters Zahra Mohammadi and Mursal Ayar also disappeared, along with some of their relatives, including the three sisters of Tamana Zaryab Paryani, the youngest just 13-years-old.
Shortly before Tamana Zaryabi Paryani went missing, footage of her in distress surfaced online.
In the video, Paryani called out: “Kindly help! Taliban have come to our home in Parwan 2. My sisters are at home.”
Paryani is seen imploring the men behind the door: “If you want to talk, we’ll talk tomorrow. I cannot meet you in the night with these girls. I don’t want to [open the door]… Please! Help, help!”
Days after her disappearance, neighbours told BBC that the activist had been taken away along with two of her sisters.
Taliban personnel Suhai Shaheen told the BBC: “If [the Taliban] had detained them, they would say they have detained them, and if that is the allegation they will go to court and they will defend themselves… This is something legal, but if they are not detained, and they are making such fake scenes and shooting films in order to seek asylum abroad.”
Former BBC correspondent Andrew North and another foreign journalist have also been released in the past few days, after they were put in detention earlier this month.
The UNHCR announced on Friday they were “… relieved to confirm the release in Kabul of the two journalists on assignment with UNHCR, and the Afghan nationals working with them.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid insisted the journalists had been detained because they did not have valid identity cards and documents with them.
Since last August, the Islamist group have imposed increasing restrictions on Afghans, especially on women, including denying female public sector employees from working, not permitting many high school-aged female students to return to school, segregating university classes by gender and banning unsanctioned protests.
Last Friday, Biden’s administration officials announced plans to access USD$3.5 billion worth of assets from the Afghan central bank to appease lawsuits over the September 11 terror attacks. The announcement ignited protests in Kabul over the weekend, with one Afghan activist group condemning the decision in a public statement.
“President Biden’s decision to set aside half of Afghanistan’s frozen reserves to 9/11 families is short-sighted, cruel, and will worsen a catastrophe in progress, affecting millions of Afghans, many of whom are on the verge of starvation,” Afghans For A Better Tomorrow said in a statement.
“Let us be clear: all of the $7.1 billion in reserves belongs, rightfully, to the people of Afghanistan and ought to be used to allow the Central Bank of Afghanistan to perform its basic functions.”