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HRW Says Taliban Detaining, Torturing Civilians In Northern Afghanistan


Taliban fighters sit atop a Humvee in the Omarz area of Panjshir Province in September 2021.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Afghanistan's Taliban rulers have been detaining and torturing civilians that they accuse of supporting an armed opposition group in the northern Panjshir Province.

After the Taliban returned to power in August 2021 amid the withdrawal of the U.S.-led international forces, an opposition group known as the National Resistance Front (NRF) vowed to resist Taliban authority in the rugged Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul.

NRFA is led by Ahmad Masud, son of the famed late anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban mujahedin commander Ahmad Shah Masud, and has thousands of seasoned fighters that include some who had served in the former Afghan National Security Forces.

The NRF has stepped up attacks on Taliban units and checkpoints in the area since last month, HRW said in a statement on June 10, prompting the radical group to deploy thousands of fighters to Panjshir.

HRW said that Taliban fighters have unleashed a campaign of reprisals against the communities that they allege are backing the NRF.

“Taliban forces in Panjshir province have quickly resorted to beating civilians in their response to fighting against the opposition National Resistance Front,” Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement.

“The Taliban’s longstanding failure to punish those responsible for serious abuses in their ranks puts more civilians at risk,” Gossman added.

The New York-based HRW said that it has obtained information on the Panjshir situation from a human rights worker and another source that had direct information about the Taliban detentions.

According to the information obtained, the Taliban detained about 80 residents in Panjshir’s Khenj district earlier this month and beat them to force them to provide information about the NRF.

"After several days, the Taliban released 70, but have continued to hold 10 people whose relatives they accuse of being members of the group, a form of collective punishment," HRW said, adding that former detainees said the district jail held nearly 100 others who have alleged links to the NRF.

HRW researcher Fereshta Abbasi told RFE/RL on June 10 that none of those detained had access to their families or lawyers.

“There are still dozens of people in the custody of the Taliban in some districts of Panjshir. The detainees do not have the right to talk with their families and do not have access to a lawyer or a fair trial. There is no impartial justice system [in Afghanistan] to address such cases.”

In an audio message to RFE/RL, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid rejected the accusations calling them "baseless and untrue."

Taliban forces in Panjshir are under the command of Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, who HRW says warned on May 21 that the authorities would not allow anyone to “disrupt security” in the province.

HRW warned that since returning to power, the Taliban has unleashed a campaign of terror in many parts of Afghanistan.

"During search operations in other provinces, Taliban forces have committed summary executions and enforced disappearances of captured fighters and other detainees, which are war crimes," the group said.

"International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, which is applicable in Afghanistan’s armed conflicts, obligates all warring parties to treat everyone in their custody humanely," HRW said.

"Collective punishment -- the punishment of individuals for alleged actions of others -- is a violation of the laws of war and a war crime."

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