LGBTQ people in Afghanistan are facing a rise in attacks and an increasingly desperate situation under Taliban rule, according to a report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch and OutRight Action International.
The report, entitled "'Even If You Go to the Skies, We’ll Find You': LGBT People in Afghanistan After the Taliban Takeover" interviewed 60 queer Afghans in late 2021. Most were still living in Afghanistan, while a few had escaped to nearby countries.
Queer individuals face violence, harassment
Many of the interviewees reported attacks, sexual harassment, and receiving threats from the Taliban since the religious extremist group seized power in August last year.
They said Taliban fighters stopped individuals at checkpoints for their clothes not conforming to gender norms, or for being too "Western." Private messages on cell phones were checked for proof of them being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or gender non-conforming.
Two men reported being raped or blackmailed into sex by Taliban members. Many said they also knew of other LGBTQ individuals who had gone missing or had been killed.
A man named in the report as "Ramiz" said he was kidnapped by Taliban members and had to face sexual violence and assault at their hands.
"From now on, anytime we want to be able to find you, we will. And we will do whatever we want with you," they reportedly told him while releasing him.
Interviewees said they had erased their presence on social media, while some reported the Taliban had infiltrated LGBTQ groups and dating apps to entrap them.
Homosexuality was illegal under previous President Ashraf Ghani as well. However, the situation had vastly deteriorated under the Taliban. Some of those interviewed said they had received threats from neighbors, friends and family, and were at risk of being exposed to the Taliban.
A Taliban judge had told German tabloid Bild in 2021: "For homosexuals, there can only be two punishments: either stoning, or he must stand behind a wall that will fall down on him."
"A lot of queer people have lost their jobs. Even if they hide themselves, the problem is they need to feed themselves," said Nihan, a trans woman who had to leave her job at a print shop after the Taliban took over in August 2021.
Sex work, dancing and entertaining were common professions for trans people, but the situation has become far more dangerous during the Taliban regime, the report said.
Afghanistan is already facing an economic and employment crisis, with dozens at risk of starvation during the winter.
"The Taliban is very unlikely to ever accept fully the rights of LGBT people but at least some international pressure and attention to the rights of LGBT people could deter some of the worst abuses," Heather Barr, associate director of women's rights at Human Rights Watch, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
She said most LGBTQ Afghans were likely to remain in the country, as opposed to fleeing persecution.
The report said women and queer individuals, who already face a barrier to movement, were less likely to escape for fear of being noticed. Many said they were not in a position to leave behind loved ones, and some feared being deported back to Afghanistan.
"I have no documents. People are saying I will have to go back to Afghanistan, but if I go back they will kill me," a trans woman who had escaped with the help of a smuggler said in the report.
Edited by: Rebecca Staudenmaier