Afghan social media influencer Ajmal Haqiqi gained popularity for his entertaining videos on YouTube.
On June 7, the fashion model appeared on another widely viewed video. But this time, he was handcuffed, wearing a prison uniform, and sporting bruises on his face as he addressed the camera.
In the 2-minute video issued by the Taliban, Haqiqi apologized to Afghanistan’s new rulers for “insulting” the Koran, Islam’s holy book, in one of his recent YouTube clips.
“We are ready to accept any punishment,” said Haqiqi, standing next to three of his colleagues. He added that his popular YouTube channel promotes “moral corruption” and is supported by the ousted Western-backed Afghan government.
The video uploaded by the Taliban’s General Directorate of Intelligence was accompanied by a tweet saying: “No one is allowed to insult Koranic verses or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.”
The video was released on the same day that Haqiqi and his three colleagues were arrested on charges of “insulting Islam.” The charges stem from a video posted last week in which Haqiqi is seen laughing as his colleague Ghulam Sakhi -- who has a speech impediment -- recites verses of the Koran in a comical voice. Haqiqi had issued a video on June 5 to offer an apology.
The arrest of the men and the release of the video have prompted widespread outrage, with rights activists accusing the Taliban of extracting the so-called confession under duress.
'Blatant Attack' On Free Speech
“If it is proved that his confession was forced, it will have no legal value,” Soraya Pekan, an Afghan legal expert, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. "The Taliban should clarify what laws they are currently employing.”
Afghanistan's judiciary has undergone a swift and complete overhaul since the Taliban seized power in August.
The shadow courts of the Taliban’s insurgency, dominated by hard-line clerics, have been transformed into the state’s new judicial system, according to observers. Taliban courts have employed an extreme interpretation of Shari’a law.
“Arbitrarily detaining YouTuber Haqiqi and his colleagues and coercing them into apologizing because the Taliban de-facto authorities were offended by the video is a blatant attack on the right to freedom of expression,” Samira Hamidi, Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigner, said in a June 8 statement.
“The Taliban must immediately and unconditionally release the YouTubers and end their continued censorship of those who wish to freely express their ideas,” she added.
Human rights campaigners have accused the Taliban of carrying out extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture, and forced confessions as part of its effort to crush dissent. The militants have targeted human rights defenders, women activists, journalists, and intellectuals.
Amnesty International has documented multiple cases of the Taliban extracting forced confessions, in what it says is an attempt by the Taliban to deter others from expressing their views.
In February, 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.