Accessibility links

Breaking News

Afghan-Canadian Aid Worker Reappears After Weeks In Taliban Detention

Nadima Noor, an Afghan-Canadian comedian and women's rights activist. (file photo)

Nadima Noor, a female Afghan-Canadian aid worker who runs a humanitarian organization in Kabul, vanished last month.

Noor’s family in Canada, who spoke to eyewitnesses, said a group of Taliban fighters entered her office, forced her into a car, and whisked her away in broad daylight.

For weeks, Noor’s family had no idea where she was or why she was taken. Then on March 9, she was released from Taliban detention. No charges were brought against her.

“She was forcefully picked up without any proof of wrongdoing and without any reason,” her brother Dastaan Noor told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.

“Nadima was detained for 24 days without any legal representation,” he added. “After an investigation was conducted, she was found innocent of any wrongdoing.”

The Taliban did not respond to an email from Radio Azadi seeking comment.

Afghan women pass by a Taliban fighter on a street in Kabul.
Afghan women pass by a Taliban fighter on a street in Kabul.

Noor, 38, is the latest victim of an enforced disappearance in Afghanistan, where critics say the practice has been used by the Taliban to stifle dissent.

Since the Taliban’s return to power in August, dozens of rights activists, journalists, and academics have been arbitrarily detained or have disappeared. Some have been released. The whereabouts of others remain unclear.

“She was very emotional and very upset about why she was held without any reason,” said Dastaan Noor. “It’s unfortunate that the citizens of Afghanistan -- be it women or men -- are still picked up without any reason, detained, and then released."

‘I Will Be Buried Here’

When the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, hundreds of aid workers, activists, and artists fled the country, fearing for their lives and their work.

But Noor, who is also a comedian and rights activist, refused to leave.

“I was born here. I will be buried here," she told Al-Jazeera in late August. “I will tell you why: This pattern of running away has to be broken.”

Before the Taliban takeover, Noor made regular guest appearances on Afghan television channels. That stopped after the militants' return to power. But she continued her social media presence, uploading satirical videos for her thousands of followers.

Some of the clips were critical of Afghanistan’s new hard-line rulers, who have rolled back women’s rights, committed human rights abuses, and sidelined many of the country’s ethnic and religious groups.

Last month, Noor made a video in which she admonished the heavily armed young Taliban fighters patrolling the streets of the Afghan capital.

“While going around in the backs of your Ranger [pickup trucks], you should not point your guns at nearby pedestrians,” she said. “Also, do not rest your chin on your guns. You might fire it [unintentionally] and kill someone or harm yourself.”

Just a few days later, on February 13, Noor was detained by the Taliban along with six of her colleagues, according to her family.

All worked for Dream Voice Act, a Kabul-based nongovernmental organization headed by Noor that focuses on mental health.

Dastaan Noor said five of those detained, all locals, were released after several days. But he said Noor and a foreign citizen who worked with her were kept in detention. The fate of the foreign national remains unclear.

“They have no specific answers as to why they were holding her,” said Dastaan Noor, revealing that he had contacted Taliban officials after the family learned of Noor’s detention.

He said her sister had obtained a letter from Taliban officials that guaranteed her freedom of movement inside the country.

“We were very confused about why this happened so suddenly even though they were aware of her daily activities,” he said.

‘Very Alarming’

Rights groups say extrajudicial and arbitrary detentions and killings have increased in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power.

In recent weeks, several dozen women activists who have staged protests have vanished while the Taliban has denied any role in their disappearance amid heightened fears about their safety.

A group of Afghan women hold a march in Kabul to protest restrictions imposed by the Taliban.
A group of Afghan women hold a march in Kabul to protest restrictions imposed by the Taliban.

Several of the women have reportedly been released but their whereabouts remain unknown.

On February 21, the Taliban Interior Ministry released a video of several female activists who said they had been encouraged by foreign-based activists to take to the streets by offering them the chance to relocate or send their children to study abroad.

The video led to anger and accusations that the Taliban extracted the so-called confessions under duress.

Human rights campaigners say that arbitrary arrests and disappearances are part of the Taliban’s escalating effort to crush dissent.

"It just demonstrates how little rule of law there is in Afghanistan these days," Heather Barr, an associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch, told RFE/RL.

“You just disappear and reappear or not reappear, which is very alarming and very frightening, and it feels like the Taliban are using it intentionally in some cases such as the women’s rights protesters.”

The Taliban has refused to comment on cases of enforced disappearances. Still, an unnamed Taliban intelligence official told the Washington Post that some foreigners have been arrested on suspicion of spying, human trafficking, or lacking proper documents.

“These arrests are a lesson to all the foreigners in Afghanistan who are not obeying the rules,” the official said.

Most of the Taliban’s targets have been locals.

Sayed Baqir Mohseni, a university professor and political commentator, disappeared on March 4 just days after accusing the Taliban of stifling free speech during a guest appearance on an Afghan TV channel.

"I was kept in an intelligence office at an unknown location for three days, but I was treated well,” he told Radio Azadi after his release on March 6.

Another university lecturer, Faizullah Jalal, who criticized the Taliban in a TV debate was detained in January. The Taliban released him days later after coming under international pressure.

Jalal and others who have been arbitrarily held by the Taliban have stayed silent since their release.