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Afghan Protest Ban Stokes Fears Of Taliban Government Quickly Shedding Pledges

Afghans hold placards and shout anti-Pakistan slogans during a protest in Kabul on September 7.

The new Taliban-led government in Afghanistan outlawed protests "for the time being" on its first working day, in a stark blow to Afghan and international hopes that the hard-line Islamist group's second reign will prove less restrictive than two decades ago.

And warnings by women's equality and other rights groups of the rush to stifle protest and media highlighted the looming threat to the Afghan public.

The leadership of the Interior Ministry installed by the Taliban as part of a government of what it calls the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan a day earlier announced on September 8 that demonstrators "disturbed the civil order and caused harassment."

It added that "therefore, no one should try to organize a protest for the time being under any circumstances."

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The ban was the first public act of the new Interior Ministry's leadership.

Taliban gunmen have already cracked down on some of the smattering of protests for women's rights, unfettered media, and other causes staged since the group effectively took control of the country in mid-August when the UN-backed government crumbled.

The United States and its partners have already put the Taliban government on notice that international legitimacy will have to be "earned."

A U.S.-led virtual meeting with more than 20 partner states explored ways to prod the Taliban to avoid major rights infringements, stop persecuting women and girls, and fulfill a promise of "inclusive" rule.

A Kabul-based UN official who works to encourage equality of the sexes and women's empowerment warned on September 8 that the Taliban is already departing from commitments like its pledge that "women's rights would be respected within the framework of Islam."

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Alison Davidian, a representative for UN Women in Afghanistan, said in a video conference with journalists that already "every day we were receiving reports of rollbacks on women's rights."

She cited women "prohibited from leaving the house without a mahram," or male escort from her family, and "in some provinces they [are] stopped from going to work."

"With the announcement [of a hard-line government] yesterday, the Taliban missed a critical opportunity to show the world that they are truly committed to build an inclusive and prosperous society," Davidian said.

She urged the Taliban "to show that it governs for all Afghans."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a warning on September 8 that new restrictions and beatings of journalists in Afghanistan "indicate a crackdown on free speech" is already under way there.

It said, "Taliban authorities in Afghanistan have been detaining and assaulting journalists and imposing new restrictions on media work" and urged the group to "call a halt to the assaults, drop the restrictions, and ensure that Taliban members responsible for abuses against protesters and journalists are appropriately punished."

"Taliban authorities are obligated under international law to respect and uphold everyone’s right to peaceful protests and to respect the rights of women and girls,” Patricia Gossman, HRW's associate Asia director, said. "Concerned governments should press the Taliban to protect free expression and peaceful assembly.”

With reporting by dpa and AFP
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