Afghanistan: Taliban remain 'illegitimate' leaders, Afghan women activists say

Afghan women activists said on Sunday that the Taliban remained "illegitimate" leaders, despite the endorsement of their fundamentalist Islamist regime by thousands of religious leaders.

Some 3.500 religious dignitaries from all regions of Afghanistan pledged allegiance to the Taliban and their leader Hibatullah Akhundzada on Saturday, after three days of meetings in the capital Kabul.

During this rally, convened by the Taliban, thorny issues such as the right of adolescent girls to go to school were never addressed.

The Taliban have since wanted to present the event as a vote of confidence in their conception of a state totally subject to Sharia – Islamic law.

Asked about the absence of women at the meetings, the Taliban explained that their presence was not necessary, as they would be represented by male relatives.

"Statements issued, or swearing allegiance to the Taliban, at a rally or event without the presence of half the country's population - women - are not acceptable," Hoda told AFP. Khamosh, a human rights activist in exile in Norway.

“This gathering (…) has no legitimacy, no value, has not received the approval of the people,” she added.

Ultra-rigorous interpretation of Islam

Since their return to power in August 2021, the Taliban have largely returned to the ultra-rigorous interpretation of Islam that marked their first stint in power (1996-2001), severely restricting women's rights.

They almost completely barred them from public employment, restricted their right to travel, and barred girls from attending secondary schools. Women were required to wear full veils, covering their faces, for any outings in public.

They also banned non-religious music, the representation of human faces in advertisements, the broadcast on television of films or series showing unveiled women, and asked men to wear traditional clothing and to let their hair grow. beard.

Persecuted Christians

When publishing the annual report of the Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the president of the organization, Nadine Maenza, expressed her despair at the deterioration of religious freedom in Afghanistan.

In particular, she denounced the “immediate and disastrous downward spiral” into which the conditions of religious freedom fell since the Taliban took power. Christians are particularly targeted.

The country occupies the first place in theGlobal Christian Persecution Index 2022 of the NGO Portes Ouvertes and is also among the winners of the International Christian Concern's "Persecutors of the Year 2022". A report that lists the top 16 persecutors of Christians in the world and names three winners of the Persecutors of the Year Award, according to 3 categories, countries, entities and individuals.

According to ICC, since late 2021, the Taliban have used tactics to expose the country's Christians, bringing persecution in Afghanistan to its highest level since the first Taliban government was established in 1996.

'The only thing Afghans can do is raise their voices'

In Kabul, a collective of women's groups also challenged the representativeness of religious dignitaries.

“Religious leaders represent only part of society, they are not the whole of society,” Ainoor Uzbik, a member of this group, told AFP.

“The decisions they made only serve their own interests, it was not in the interest of the country and its people. There was nothing for women in the program, nor in the (final) communiqué,” she added, after holding a press conference.

In a statement, the collective said that men like the Taliban have held absolute power before in history, but only for a short time, before being thrown out.

For Ainoor Uzbik, "the only thing Afghans can do is raise their voices and demand that the international community put pressure on the Taliban".

Camille Westphal Perrier (with AFP)

Image credit: Shutterstock.com / timsimages.uk

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