Rights groups say LGBT Afghans are in an increasingly desperate situation after the Taliban takeover as they face serious threats to their safety.
Human Rights Watch and OutRight Action International said in a joint report on January 26 that members of the LGBT community have been forced into hiding while the worsening economic crisis has put them at risk of hunger.
From October to December, the two rights groups interviewed 60 LGBT Afghans, most of whom were inside Afghanistan.
Others fled to neighboring countries where their situation remains risky as they face the danger of being expelled. Only a small number have resettled in countries where they feel safe, said the report, titled “‘Even If You Go to the Skies, We’ll Find You’: LGBT People in Afghanistan After the Taliban Takeover."
Those interviewed said the LGBT community was being continuously targeted by Taliban members and their supporters, forcing gay people to hide indoors and abandon their jobs -- if they had any.
Many of those interviewed said their inability to work was of even bigger concern than violence, as Afghanistan's economy sinks deeper into crisis and millions are at risk of starvation this winter.
Even before the militant group’s takeover in August, LGBT people said it had been too dangerous to live openly in ultra-conservative Afghanistan, where same-sex sexual relations were explicitly criminalized by a 2018 law passed by the government of President Ashraf Ghani.
This time around, the militants have sought to present a more moderate face on some human rights issues, but a Taliban spokesman said in October that under the group's strict interpretation of Shari'a law the rights of the LGBT community will not be respected.
A Taliban judge told the German newspaper Bild before the fall of Kabul in August that “for homosexuals, there can only be two punishments: either stoning, or he must stand behind a wall that will fall down on him.”
Two gay men told the watchdogs that they had been raped by Taliban fighters, while many others said they had been threatened or attacked.
"A lot of queer people have lost their jobs," said Nihan, a trans woman who was forced to abandon her job at a print shop after the Taliban takeover.
"Even if they hide themselves, the problem is they need to feed themselves," she told the researchers.
Another gay man told researchers that he was detained at a checkpoint by Taliban fighters who beat him and gang-raped him, telling him, “From now on anytime we want to be able to find you, we will. And we will do whatever we want with you.”
A Taliban spokesman could not be reached by phone and did not reply to messages requesting comment on the new report, the researchers said.
Those interviewed said armed Taliban guards are searching people's phones for any proof that would reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Many were forced to delete their social media accounts, photos, and messages.
Taliban members or informants have infiltrated LGBT messaging groups on social media platforms or dating apps to entrap them, some of the interviewees said.
Dozens of LGBT Afghans have managed to flee to Britain and the number of those who want to leave Afghanistan and the surrounding countries remains high, the report said.
"Some report seeing LGBTQI people being executed on the streets when they are found out by the Taliban. Beatings and active searches...are also commonly reported," a representative of the British charity Micro Rainbow told researchers.
The two human rights groups urged the international community to step up pressure on the militant group to stop violating gay people's rights.
“The Taliban have explicitly pledged not to respect LGBT Afghans' rights,” said Heather Barr, associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.
“It’s critically important for concerned governments to urgently put pressure on the Taliban to respect the rights of LGBT people, ensure that assistance they provide Afghanistan reaches LGBT people, and recognize that LGBT Afghans seeking asylum face a special risk of persecution in Afghanistan and neighboring countries,” Barr said.