Buenos Aires Hours | Death out of sadness – or the Taliban: LGBTQ Afghans are in hiding

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As the Taliban appeared on every street corner in Kabul, Marwa and her friend, both Afghan homosexuals, made the drastic decision to become husband and wife.

The rushed marriage was celebrated without ceremony or family around them.

“I thought the Taliban would come and kill me,” the 24-year-old told AFP in an interview on WhatsApp.

“I was scared, I cried all the time… so I asked my friend to prepare a marriage certificate,” said Marwa, using a pseudonym for security reasons.

Many LGBTQ Afghans are haunted by the brutally repressive Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, when gay men were stoned to death or crushed by knocked down walls as punishment.

Activists have not officially commented on the matter since they invaded Kabul on August 15, but former senior judge Gul Rahim told Germany Bild newspaper that the death penalty for homosexuals would be reinstated.

More generally, the Taliban have made it clear that they will apply their restrictive interpretation of Islamic law – which is unequivocal on the rights of LGBTQ people.

Terrified for their lives, many young homosexual men and women went into hiding, erasing all traces of their previous life on social networks, according to NGOs and testimonies collected by AFP.

A gay man was raped and beaten by a group of men who lured him under the pretext that he would be evacuated, according to LGBTQ rights activists quoted by the media.

“When the Taliban first arrived, we didn’t go out of our homes for about two or three weeks and now we go out in different clothes, trying to look simple,” said Abdullah, who has spoke to AFP in the western town of Herat. .

“Before, we wore pants and jeans, or T-shirts, and some gay men put on makeup,” added the 21-year-old, who also used a pseudonym.

Stay with our families

Under successive US-backed governments over the past 20 years, only slight progress has been made in the area of ​​LGBTQ rights, with the issue poorly understood in Afghanistan.

Even after the Taliban were ousted in 2001, homosexual sex was still a criminal offense punishable by jail time.

People were regularly discriminated against, assaulted and raped, with little responsibility.

Yet tiny pockets of acceptance began to bloom.

“They had some freedom and safe places in Kabul,” said Artemis Akbary, a prominent Afghan LGBTQ rights activist who fled to Turkey several years ago. “There was a cafe in Kabul where every Friday LGBT friends would meet and dance.”

Abdullah also described how support has started to grow in recent years, thanks to media coverage and access to information.

“It was a motivation for all of us to stay in Afghanistan and strengthen the LGBT community here, and at least to stay in our country with our own families,” he said.

But as cities began to fall into Taliban hands over the summer, some found ways to escape the country, including to Pakistan and Iran.

Since taking power in August, the Taliban have replaced the Ministry of Women’s Affairs with a department known to have applied strict religious doctrine during their first rule two decades ago.

“For those who are still present in Kabul, it is clear that the reopening of the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice is by far the most dangerous sword of Damocles,” said Arnaud Gauthier-Fawas, spokesperson for Inter-LGBT. France.

The ministry’s enforcement officials were known in the 1990s to carry whips and were responsible for strictly implementing harsh interpretations of Islam.

The Rainbow Railroad in Canada, an advocacy group that helps LGBTQ people escape state-sponsored violence, said it has been contacted by more than 700 Afghans since the crisis began.

“We have received direct reports of LGBTQ people targeted in violent attacks, some of which have been fatal,” said group executive director Kimahli Powell.

“People are hiding and fearful for their lives. There is great uncertainty as to what will follow.”

‘Like a bird’

Yahya, who identifies as homosexual and a gender nonconforming person, says they were beaten by a Taliban guard wielding a blue PVC pipe the first time they dared to venture outside after the fall of Kabul.

“It’s not written on my face that I am that person. But he cursed and said, ‘Can’t you walk like a man?’

“My eyes were full of tears but I couldn’t say anything to him because he had a gun hanging from his other shoulder. So I didn’t say anything, and I just got in a cab and left.”

Yahya, who was beaten by their brother after being exposed by a relative eight years ago, told AFP in Kabul that life would get worse “by the day” under the Taliban.

After weeks of frantic contact with international organizations, Yahya was evacuated.

“I’m so happy I can’t explain it,” Yahya told AFP after leaving Afghanistan. “I feel like a bird released from a cage and ready to fly.”

AFP changed their name to protect their identity.

For Marwa, who relies on her new marriage for protection, the Afghans who remain must live under the constant threat of death.

“They will be killed by isolation, hunger, sadness, depression or stress, or they will be killed by the Taliban or their family,” she said.

by James Edgar in Kabul, with Marine Pennetier in Islamabad, AFP

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