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UN Concerned Over Arrests At Kabul News Conference To Announce Women's Movement For Equality

Afghan female students queue for entrance exams at Kabul University on October 13. The Taliban has issued restrictions controlling women's lives, blocking girls from returning to secondary schools and barring women from many government jobs.

The United Nations human rights office has voiced concern over the detention of five people after the Taliban disrupted a press conference in Kabul intended to launch a new women's movement.

One woman, Zarifa Yaqobi, and four male colleagues were arrested at the event and remained in detention on November 4, UN rights office spokesman Jeremy Laurence told reporters in Geneva.

A women's rights activists who did not want to be named due to security concerns told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that Yaqobi was arrested after announcing the founding of the Afghan Women's Movement for Equality.

"The whole place was militarized. We thought they were going to bring us all to one place," the activist said. "First they took the boys, then they locked the women in the room."

The women were temporarily detained and subjected to phone and body searches before being released, the activist and the UN rights office said.

The activist said that later on November 3 the Taliban took Yaqobi's sister, Arifa Yaqobi, and her husband-in-law's brother under the pretext they should be with Yaqobi at night.

Laurence said the UN had received "deeply worrying reports that yesterday (November 3) afternoon in Kabul, a number of de facto security officials disrupted a press conference by a women's civil society organization."

He said the UN rights office is "concerned about the welfare of these five individuals and [has] sought information from the de facto authorities regarding their detention."

A Taliban spokesman did not immediately provide a comment, Reuters reported.

The four men detained along with Yaqobi were her brothers, a women's rights activist told AFP. The activist, who identified herself only by the name Mandegar because of security concerns, said when the news conference started the Taliban told the organizers they could not hold it and asked the journalists who were present to leave.

She said the Taliban sent in female police officers who "checked our phones and deleted all images of the event." The officers also "insulted and threatened us before they allowed us to leave one by one."

Women's freedoms in Afghanistan have been undermined since the Taliban seized power in August 2021 as international forces backing a pro-Western government pulled out. The Taliban has issued a slew of restrictions controlling women's lives, blocking girls from returning to secondary schools and barring women from many government jobs.

Fawzia Kofi, a member of Afghanistan's Moj Talaq Party, told Radio Azadi that Yaqobi was also a member of the party and her actions show that the Taliban is afraid of women.

"I expect the men of Afghanistan to stand by their sisters in this situation and not allow (the Taliban) to misrepresent religion and human rights," Kofi said.

Shukria Barakzai, the former ambassador of Afghanistan to Norway and a women's rights activist, said such actions by the Taliban will have bad consequences for the militants.

"Limiting the freedoms of Afghans, whether it is in speech or in the demands of the people, is the work of the Taliban. There is no doubt that today the Taliban consider women as their main enemies," she said.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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    RFE/RL's Radio Azadi

    RFE/RL's Radio Azadi is one of the most popular and trusted media outlets in Afghanistan. Nearly half of the country's adult audience accesses Azadi's reporting on a weekly basis.