Transcript

Afghanistan Undercover

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This program contains graphic content some viewers may find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.

RAMITA NAVAI, Correspondent:

As the Taliban took power in Afghanistan last year, I began working undercover there. The Taliban were promising to respect women’s rights. But we started gathering evidence of women jailed by the Taliban without trial and held in secret.

[Speaking Dari] When did they arrest you?

FEMALE PRISONER:

[Speaking Dari] Three months ago. Our crime is immoral behavior.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Of girls abducted from their homes and forcibly married.

NURIA:

[Speaking Dari] He kept hitting me.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Of women living in hiding and in fear of their lives, with those speaking out risking imprisonment.

ARIFA:

[Speaking Dari] The only thing left is your voice. With the thread of your voice, sew the flag of rebellion.

RAMITA NAVAI:

This is the Afghanistan the Taliban don’t want the world to see.

November 2021

RAMITA NAVAI:

I arrived in the country a few months after the Taliban seized power.

There was already widespread fear among women and signs that the Taliban were using their extreme interpretation of Islamic law to crack down on them.

I traveled to the west of Afghanistan, where I'd heard accounts that young women were disappearing. Their families didn’t know what had happened to them.

Herat

Western Afghanistan

RAMITA NAVAI:

In Herat city center, Taliban fighters were patrolling the streets. The day before, they’d shot dead a doctor who failed to stop at a checkpoint.

We keep hearing that Taliban intelligence is really strong here in Herat and that there are informants everywhere, so while everything seems normal, when you talk to people here there’s a real atmosphere of fear and mistrust.

I was put in touch with the family of a woman who’d gone missing. Her brother met me on a side street and took me to meet the family. We agreed to call his sister Maryam and conceal her identity.

Maryam had disappeared three weeks earlier. Her mother showed me pictures of her, graduating just before the Taliban takeover. Her dream was to become a film director.

MARYAM'S MOTHER:

[Speaking Dari] She's a lively girl. An outspoken girl. She doesn't even have her coat with her.

RAMITA NAVAI:

[Speaking Dari] I'm really sorry.

MARYAM'S MOTHER:

[Speaking Dari] She must be so cold.

RAMITA NAVAI:

They’ve packed all her things away and they just—her mother broke down crying and she’s going through her things now.

MARYAM'S MOTHER:

[Speaking Dari] May God help us and save us.

RAMITA NAVAI:

While we were in Herat, we heard of several other families with similar stories. We contacted a group of female lawyers who'd been investigating the Taliban’s treatment of women in the city. They said they’d been hearing from their sources that the Istikhbarat—the Taliban intelligence service—was jailing women without trial for "moral crimes" such as traveling without a male relative.

The Taliban had banned the lawyers from working and were watching them. But they agreed to meet us in secret.

FEMALE LAWYER:

[Speaking Dari] The Taliban believe women have no legal rights. They just write charges on a piece of paper. They are sentenced to three months, two months, five years, one year and then taken to prison. Cases are not registered in Afghanistan's court database, and there is no judicial process.

RAMITA NAVAI:

These women say they’re risking their lives just by being here but they’ve come because they think it’s important the world knows what’s happening to women and girls in Herat.

Maryam’s family eventually received news of her.

Salaam.

She was alive. She was being held in Herat’s central prison.

The family received a letter from their daughter that was smuggled out of prison.

Her sister read it out to us.

DIMA:

[Speaking Dari] This letter is the only way I can contact you.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Maryam said that some friends had been arrested for riding in a taxi without a male relative. She and one of the friends' fathers went to find them, then she too was arrested for traveling without a male relative.

DIMA:

[Speaking Dari] They put me in an Intelligence car and took me away. There were three people interrogating me. They kept tasing me, saying, "Tell us the truth." They took my cell phone and then they brought me to the prison. Look after each other. My days and nights are very hard here. I worry about all of you.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Maryam’s family said they tried to see her in the prison but were turned away and told there was no record of her there.

Without mentioning her name, we approached the prison ourselves to see if we could get inside and find out what was going on.

A few days later the Taliban sent their answer.

We’ve been told we can film in the men’s section. And when we’re there we're going to see if we can get permission to film in the women’s section.

The new Taliban prison chief, Mullah Mohammad Nabi Khalil, was waiting. He wanted to show us he was treating his prisoners well.

NABI KHALIL:

[Speaking Pashto] We fully respect the rights of all the prisoners. We don't shout or beat or do anything cruel to scare the prisoners.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Our tour of the men’s wing began. He said there were around 700 male prisoners, mostly charged with theft or murder.

NABI KHALIL:

[Speaking Pashto] Whatever the punishment might be, whether to beat them or keep them locked up, it's up to the courts to decide. Then we will implement it.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Eventually, the prison chief agreed to take us to the women’s section, where he told us over 90 women were being held.

We’re about to enter the women’s prison, and he’s already told me that we can’t interview any of the prisoners on camera. I’m going to see if I can chat to them.

Using a hidden camera, I started to film. Around 40 women were huddled in a courtyard.

[Speaking Dari] Salaam. Will anyone speak to me?

WOMAN 1:

[Speaking Dari] Yes, you can speak to me.

RAMITA NAVAI:

[Speaking Dari] Who arrested you? For what crime?

WOMAN 1:

[Speaking Dari] For the crime of immoral behavior.

RAMITA NAVAI:

[Speaking Dari] Immoral behavior? When did they arrest you?

WOMAN 1:

[Speaking Dari] Three months ago.

RAMITA NAVAI:

[Speaking Dari] Which government?

WOMAN 1:

[Speaking Dari] This government.

RAMITA NAVAI:

[Speaking Dari] This government.

WOMAN 1:

[Speaking Dari] They don't look after us here, but we can't say anything.

RAMITA NAVAI:

[Speaking Dari] Has your arrest and offense been officially recorded?

WOMAN 2:

[Speaking Dari] There is no court. There's been no court for three or four months.

WOMAN 1:

[Speaking Dari] They don't look after us. I have a 7-month-old baby at home.

WOMAN 3:

[Speaking Dari] Eight children at home, hungry and thirsty.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Then I spotted a young woman I recognized from the photographs her mother had shown me. It was Maryam.

How are you doing?

I spoke in English so the guards wouldn't understand.

Why have you been taken?

MARYAM:

Twenty-one days.

RAMITA NAVAI:

And what for? What crime?

MARYAM:

They don't let us to speak. When we speak, they—big punches, OK? So, just say to the whole world they don't let us talk.

RAMITA NAVAI:

OK.

A female prison guard told Maryam to stop speaking English. After the reprimand, she started praising the Taliban.

MARYAM:

[Speaking Dari] They treat us really well and thank God everything is great, and our brothers the Taliban are good.

[Speaking English] Good to see you.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Great to speak to you.

MARYAM:

Thank you so much.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Maryam and the other women I spoke to in the prison had all told me similar stories and had confirmed what I'd been hearing in my reporting: that the Taliban were jailing women without trial for everything from leaving their husbands to traveling unaccompanied.

As soon as I saw her [Maryam] I recognized her from the photo that the family have shown me. Everyone I spoke to told me they’d been imprisoned for immorality since the Taliban took power.

Maryam’s family would continue their efforts to get her home.

Kabul

RAMITA NAVAI:

In Afghanistan’s capital, we continued our reporting. We found an underground network of young women running secret safe houses. They were helping other women and their families escape the Taliban.

REEM:

[Speaking Dari] We are looking after everyone, despite the threats. Families whose lives are in danger, we find them safer places to live.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Around this time, hundreds of people the Taliban accused of being linked to the previous government were being detained or even murdered, including female police officers, lawyers and journalists. The women in the network were themselves on the run from the Taliban. While I was with them, they were checking on families they were helping.

MALE VOICE [on phone]:

Hello?

SIDRA:

[Speaking Dari] Salam, how are you?

MALE VOICE [on phone]:

There's fear. I'm not feeling safe.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The women told me that many of the families they work with want to leave Afghanistan.

MALE VOICE [on phone]:

[Speaking Dari] All our hopes are pinned on reaching America.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The women let me join them as they rushed to meet a new family who'd just fled from a northern province.

They fled the Taliban and they're on their way to Kabul now. They don’t know anyone here, they've got no money and they need help.

They headed to the outskirts of the city. To make sure they weren’t followed, they changed taxis several times.

They met the family in a room near a bus station. Aysha, her husband and four children had traveled 15 hours. They’d abandoned their possessions and had nowhere else to go.

AYSHA:

[Speaking Dari] What kind of government is this? [Cries]

RAMITA NAVAI:

They were taken to a safe house. Aysha had been a radio journalist, and although the Taliban had pledged there'd be a free press, she said that in her town they’d been threatening and harassing local journalists. She went into hiding, and the week before she fled, the Taliban had stepped up their search for her and other journalists.

AYSHA:

[Speaking Dari] We were sitting at home on a Monday night and we got a call. House-to-house searches had started.

RAMITA NAVAI:

She showed us pictures of her brother that she said were taken after the Taliban tortured him, trying to get him to say where she was.

AYSHA:

[Speaking Dari] Look, they heated an iron bar. No one would do that to an animal, but they do it to humans. Why? Because I'm a journalist. They thought he would lead them to me.

RAMITA NAVAI:

[Speaking Dari] So when they interrogated your brother, they were asking about you?

AYSHA:

[Speaking Dari] He's missing now. I don't know if he's dead or alive.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Despite the Taliban’s crackdown, some women in the capital were openly challenging the regime. We came across a demonstration, which I filmed with a hidden camera.

FEMALE PROTESTER:

[Speaking Dari] We are staff from the Ministry of Women's Affairs.

RAMITA NAVAI:

One of the Taliban’s first actions was to close the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, describing it as "having no function." These women had worked there and were demanding their jobs back.

FEMALE PROTESTER:

[Speaking Dari] Those who don't let us work, we want them out.

RAMITA NAVAI:

My colleague, Karim Shah, filmed from the fringes of the protest. But agents from the Taliban intelligence service arrived, taking his camera and threatening to arrest him.

TALIB:

[Speaking Pashto] Who gave you permission to film? Come with me to the security office.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The protesters scattered and we drove off before we could be detained.

We’ve been in touch with quite a few women protesters here in Kabul but the same thing keeps happening. We arrange to meet them and they pull out because the Taliban get to them, see them at protests and the threats start. But there’s one women’s group who continue to meet, and they’re allowing us to join them at a secret meeting tomorrow.

In the past few months, this group had organized many protests, demanding that the Taliban keep its promise to allow girls to attend school. They were the first women we met willing to show their faces on camera.

Before the Taliban took over, Lena was a lawyer.

LENA:

[Speaking Dari] In one fell swoop, everything was taken away, my work and office confined to four walls. I'm like the prisoners I used to defend.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Wahida was a librarian.

WAHIDA:

[Speaking Dari] We had female lawyers, female judges, female prosecutors. All those rights have been snatched away. Nothing has been left for women.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Arifa had been about to open a restaurant.

ARIFA:

[Speaking Dari] There are dangers every step of the way. I'm sure Intelligence has our names and faces. Whether today or tomorrow, they will track us. And who knows what they will do to us?

RAMITA NAVAI:

The group was meeting to decide whether to continue with the street protests. Just that week, the Taliban had been warning women to stop protesting or face arrest.

ARIFA:

[Speaking Dari] We've decided it's not safe to protest on the streets.

FEMALE VOICE:

[Speaking Dari] For the next month or so we should lay off protests.

ARIFA:

[Speaking Dari] Not only are we threatened by the Taliban, but by our families, too. Our brothers have a problem with us. Our fathers have a problem with us. Society has a problem with us. But we've still worked hard for social justice.

Herat

RAMITA NAVAI:

In Herat, there were developments with Maryam. Using their connections, her family had been negotiating for her release. While we were with them, there was a breakthrough.

Her mother was just standing at the house gates waiting for her daughter.

Finally, Maryam and her mother were reunited. Her friends had also been released and were with her.

She told us that when she was detained, a Taliban officer took her phone.

MARYAM:

[Speaking Dari] He saw all my documents and files, saw pictures of my classmates. He started swearing at me, telling me I'm a whore. Why else would I have photos taken with boys? They tased me two or three times. They beat me with a gun then held it to my head, saying, "Tell the truth."

RAMITA NAVAI:

The other girls said they were tasered and beaten, too.

GIRL 1:

[Speaking Dari] They hit me and I still can't use my hand because they tased me.

RAMITA NAVAI:

[Speaking Dari] Tased?

GIRL 1:

[Speaking Dari] Yes.

GIRL 2:

[Speaking Dari] When the Taliban brought us to the prison they said, "Beat them and put them in four separate rooms."

GIRL 3:

[Speaking Dari] We had no blankets and it was cold. We lost track of time. We didn't even know when it was time to pray.

RAMITA NAVAI:

They said other prisoners told them they’d also been jailed without any investigation or trial.

GIRL 2:

[Speaking Dari] Another woman tried to complain. They chained her up outside in the yard, in the cold, like an animal.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Maryam and her friends said while in prison, Taliban officers made them an offer.

MARYAM:

[Speaking Dari] They said, "If you each marry a Taliban soldier, we will release you." They brought other girls five or six days after we arrived, and two of them were forced to marry Talibs to gain their freedom.

Because of their cruelty, we're now scared of normal men, even those in our families, because they are men.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Just as we were leaving, one of the women took me aside and told me they are now marked women, that the families are blaming them for dishonoring the community and that nobody will marry them. She also says that none of those women can leave their homes, not just because they’re scared of the Taliban, but because they’re scared of their neighbors. They’ve gone from one prison to another.

We drove north to Badakhshan, through the Salang Tunnel and the Hindu Kush mountains. We were hearing allegations that Taliban fighters were forcing young girls into marriage there despite the regime publicly proclaiming that the practice was forbidden.

Faizabad

Badakhshan Province

RAMITA NAVAI:

Faizabad was one of the last northern cities to fall to the Taliban in 2021. Fighters who’d once been holed up in the mountains now controlled the streets.

While we were in Faizabad, we obtained this video. Taliban fighters have tied a man to a tree and are beating him with rifle butts. I found someone who was there who told me the victim had witnessed a Taliban commander abducting a girl for marriage.

We’re hearing so many stories of Talibs forcefully taking girls and women as brides. And it’s not just the foot soldiers doing this. So far we’ve heard of cases involving a police chief, some top commanders and even an official working in the governor’s office.

BUSINESSMAN:

[Speaking Dari] The Taliban have spies all over the city.

RAMITA NAVAI:

A wealthy businessman met with us secretly. He said a few weeks earlier his 19-year-old cousin had been forced to marry a powerful Taliban commander 40 years older than her.

BUSINESSMAN:

[Speaking Dari] The family was well-off, the girl was pretty.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The Taliban commander, he said, had arrived at the girl’s home with some of his men and demanded her father’s consent.

BUSINESSMAN:

[Speaking Dari] They put a gun to his ear. They beat him. Spilling blood is like pouring a glass of water to him. Now she is living under serious cruelty. It would have been better to kill the girl.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Those who have witnessed such forced marriages and abductions say they follow a pattern.

MALE SPEAKER:

[Speaking Dari] They go to the bazaar looking for pretty girls. They follow them to find out whose daughter they are. They ask for marriage and if the family says no, they threaten them with death, giving them no choice.

RAMITA NAVAI:

This man agreed to talk to us if we concealed his identity. He himself had a confrontation with a group of Taliban who were taking a girl for forced marriage.

MALE SPEAKER:

[Speaking Dari] Without any questions they started beating and whipping me. It was a wild group. This is happening a lot. You don't hear about it because people are scared to speak up.

RAMITA NAVAI:

What’s striking about being in the countryside is that we're hearing so many stories of abuse at the hands of the Taliban, but none of these stories are getting out. The area’s remote, journalists have fled and the Taliban beat anyone caught filming something they don’t like.

Under the Taliban, around half of Afghanistan’s media outlets have closed, but in Faizabad, Radio Sada-e-Banowan, the Voice of Women, was still on-air.

AHMED:

[Speaking Dari] Welcome to our show, "Tea on the Balcony," with Banowan FM.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The station was founded and run by women. But now only men were in the studio.

AHMED:

[Speaking Dari] Our guest today is Culture Minister Moeziddin Ahmadi. Welcome to the show.

MOEZIDDIN AHMADI:

[Speaking Dari] Thank you for having me.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The first caller into the program was a journalist from the radio station itself, asking the Taliban information chief when she'd be allowed back to work.

FEMALE CALLER [on phone]:

[Speaking Dari] What guarantee can you give to women that they can return to work? Because although you reluctantly accept it, Taliban soldiers on the street often harass women.

MOEZIDDIN AHMADI:

[Speaking Dari] If a sister wants to work while wearing a hijab and follows the rules of the Islamic Emirate, then there is no issue. We have raised noble mujahids who have no problems with society. They would never do anything like this.

I hope I said all the right things.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Later, when the station was off-air, we returned to meet its founder and head, Najia Soroush.

NAJIA SOROUSH:

[Speaking Dari] Welcome, please come in.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The Taliban had banned Najia from the office when men were present, citing Islamic law. She said they’d been pressuring her to resign and that she had been receiving anonymous death threats.

[Speaking Dari] How many of your female staff have returned to work?

NAJIA SOROUSH:

[Speaking Dari] So far no one has come back.

This was our common room. We used to eat here. The girls would all sit here.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The Taliban had told her women could no longer host phone-in shows in case they "inflamed the passions of male callers."

NAJIA SOROUSH:

[Speaking Dari] Before, we had programs with music. Women would host live talk shows and there was laughter. Before, a girl could joke with a boy, but we can't do that anymore.

RAMITA NAVAI:

A few days later Najia would flee Faizabad.

Kabul

RAMITA NAVAI:

After being released from prison in Herat, Maryam had contacted the underground women’s network in Kabul. We filmed as they met Maryam outside the airport. Her brother and younger sister had come, too.

The guys have just arrived at the emergency safe house. They’re going to stay here for the next few days until they find them a more permanent safe house to live in, and they’re going to now debrief them.

[Speaking Dari] Why did you have to leave your home?

MARYAM:

[Speaking Dari] Everyone is looking down on us. Some more religious families told us we had brought shame on our village and asked us to leave.

RAMITA NAVAI:

[Speaking Dari] What now? What of the future?

MARYAM:

[Speaking Dari] I'm not sure what the future holds for me. Everything has been ruined. I don't see much hope or opportunity.

RAMITA NAVAI:

In Maryam’s safe house there was another woman on the run with her daughter and grandchild. She’d been a major in the Afghan army before the Taliban took power. Now, she said, they were searching for her and other former military officers. While we were with her, her brother sent footage of his arrest and torture by the Taliban.

FEMALE SPEAKER:

[Speaking Dari] They called one day and said, "Wherever you are, we'll find you. We'll kill you and your children." We are living in so much fear.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Winter was taking hold, making it harder to travel. We decided to leave and return in the spring to find out what had happened to some of the women we'd met and to put what we'd found to the Taliban.

March 2022

Kabul

RAMITA NAVAI:

Back in the capital, the Taliban agreed to an interview at a new government ministry.

So this used to be the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Now it’s the Ministry of Vice and Virtue. When we were here last three months ago, all these blast walls were covered with beautiful murals depicting women and slogans about women’s rights. And now the only thing on them are these posters telling women how to dress.

Hundreds of women used to work here. On my visit, I was the only woman in sight.

The spokesperson for the Ministry of Vice and Virtue is Akif Muhajir.

[Speaking Dari] Greetings. Pleased to meet you.

AKIF MUHAJIR:

[Speaking Pashto] Me, too.

If she can arrange her hair a bit, that would be nice.

MALE SPEAKER:

Uh, please, cover your hair.

RAMITA NAVAI:

[Speaking Dari] Is this all right?

AKIF MUHAJIR:

[Speaking Pashto] Yes, that's fine.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Why did Vice and Virtue take over the Ministry of Women’s Affairs?

AKIF MUHAJIR:

[Speaking Pashto] Naming a ministry the Ministry of Women gives women an unfair advantage. It's not fair because it implies that all other ministries are only for men.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Why are you concentrating on women? Because I noticed when I walked into the building there were posters telling women how they should dress. I haven’t seen any for men.

AKIF MUHAJIR:

[Speaking Pashto] It's not true that we are focusing on women. In today's society not covering one's body is a recurring illness that paves the way to further wrongdoing.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Should the responsibility not be on men to behave properly here? Why should the responsibility be on women?

AKIF MUHAJIR:

[Speaking Pashto] When girls were out, they were being sexually harassed by boys. All that's been prohibited now. No man can harass a woman.

RAMITA NAVAI:

I asked him about the accounts we’d uncovered of women being arrested for so-called crimes of immorality.

AKIF MUHAJIR:

[Speaking Pashto] Their actions were motivated by immorality and corruption. Perhaps you spoke with those who were raised in the last 20 years of occupation. As a result, they may have been influenced by Western culture and ideas. That may worry them, but Afghan women in Afghan society are not afraid to do what Islam tells them.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The ministry would soon issue new restrictions on women, including one ordering them to cover their faces in public.

Herat

RAMITA NAVAI:

We returned to Herat, where we’d seen the women in prison. The situation for women here was increasingly dire.

At Herat Regional Hospital I met Dr. Shahnaz Pirouz.

SHAHNAZ PIROUZ:

[Speaking Dari] I'm a plastic surgeon in the burn unit. Most of the patients are burn victims. We get a lot of women who have tried to burn themselves. We have one right now.

Are you in pain? Are you able to eat?

RAMITA NAVAI:

The patient was named Hiba. She was being treated for burns after setting herself on fire.

SHAHNAZ PIROUZ:

[Speaking Dari] Can you tell me what happened that night? Why did you burn yourself? He told you to burn yourself?

She has shivered all night. This will warm you up.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The Taliban had closed shelters that once helped women in violent marriages, like Hiba. Hers was the second self-immolation case in the ward in just two weeks.

SHAHNAZ PIROUZ:

[Speaking Dari] It's due to increased mental pressure on women at home. They can't speak up to defend themselves. There's no law to protect them.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Hiba died a month later.

Many other suicide cases are treated in the main hospital wing.

This gentleman saw that we were filming. He approached us to say that his daughter had attempted suicide and he wants us to meet her.

[Speaking Dari] Tell me what happened?

FATHER:

[Speaking Dari] She married. Then the arguments, beatings and kicking started.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Nuria had drunk bleach and was in constant pain.

NURIA:

[Speaking Dari] I drank it because he beat me. He kept hitting me. His mother would say, "Beat her harder." And she hit me, too. My husband would tell his sisters to beat me. I can't bear this pain anymore.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Nuria’s mother said she knew of several other girls in their village who'd recently tried to kill themselves.

MOTHER:

[Speaking Dari] Yes, lots have done this. She's not the only one.

RAMITA NAVAI:

[Speaking Dari] How many?

MOTHER:

[Speaking Dari] Five or six others like this.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Off camera, the hospital administration said that while they are seeing suicide cases, the numbers have gone down under the Taliban. But several doctors who were too frightened to speak openly told us hospital records were inaccurate.

One doctor agreed to an interview if we concealed her identity and her voice.

Actor's voice

FEMALE WHISTLEBLOWER:

[Speaking Dari] Cases linked to the Taliban are not registered. Cases like domestic violence or forced marriage. Because the Taliban do not want to be questioned about that. There are lots of cases.

RAMITA NAVAI:

[Speaking Dari] About how many from when they took power?

FEMALE WHISTLEBLOWER:

[Speaking Dari] Between 30 and 50 cases. There are many. These are hidden cases that have no records.

RAMITA NAVAI:

In the burn unit, Dr. Pirouz and her colleague, Dr. Mehri, had spent the day operating on patients. For now, despite the Taliban’s crackdown, they're allowed to work alongside men because the country is short of surgeons.

MEHRI:

[Speaking Dari] If we don't go to work, what will our patients do? Especially women and children, who are most vulnerable?

SHAHNAZ PIROUZ:

[Speaking Dari] We need to work. The patients need us, especially the women. They need women. It tells us that we must fight.

Kabul

ARIFA:

[Speaking Dari] The number of Taliban forces in Kabul has increased. They have begun house-to-house searches. I'm even afraid of my neighbors. I suspect they are cooperating with the Taliban.

RAMITA NAVAI:

When I’d last met Arifa, she’d been organizing protests demanding schools reopen for girls. Two of her colleagues, who I'd also met, had since been arrested and jailed by the Taliban. Wahida and Lina had been forced to make false public confessions saying they'd been paid by foreign governments.

LINA [on video]:

[Speaking Dari] The people behind the operation are American.

RAMITA NAVAI:

[Speaking Dari] What did you feel when you saw your friends and colleagues in this video?

ARIFA:

[Speaking Dari] I could tell this wasn't true. This is what the Taliban made them say. Hearing those words from women who worked fearlessly, with no thought of the consequences, who fought for six months to make justice a reality, it was extremely difficult for me to bear.

RAMITA NAVAI:

At a safe house in the city, I found Maryam again. She was still in hiding, hoping to find a way to get out of Afghanistan.

[Speaking Dari] How do you see your future?

MARYAM:

[Speaking Dari] If I can’t leave Afghanistan I’ll have no choice but to stay in a corner and then fade away. If the government remains as it is there isn’t a single ray of light here. Just darkness.

RAMITA NAVAI:

I’m waiting to see Bilal Karimi. He’s the deputy government spokesperson, and I want to put some of the allegations we've been hearing to him.

[Speaking Dari] Hello.

BILAL KARIMI:

[Speaking Dari] Hello.

RAMITA NAVAI:

[Speaking Dari] Nice to meet you. Thanks.

BILAL KARIMI:

[Speaking Dari] How are you?

If you don't mind, please don't film this lady and me in the same shot. Do not film in this way.

MALE VOICE:

[Speaking Dari] You mean, film separately?

BILAL KARIMI:

[Speaking Dari] No, either film me or her. Please explain that I personally have no problem with her.

MALE VOICE:

[Speaking Dari] This is a government issue.

BILAL KARIMI:

[Speaking Dari] Yes.

RAMITA NAVAI:

We covered some cases of women who were arrested and imprisoned for immorality and their cases were not officially registered. They were being held without charge.

BILAL KARIMI:

[Speaking Dari] When a person is charged with a crime, the case must first be investigated. If the charge is dropped they go home. There is no mistreatment. If the crime is proven, then the person will be sentenced.

RAMITA NAVAI:

I’ve spoken to young women who told me that when they were arrested Taliban officers used tasers to electrocute them.

BILAL KARIMI:

[Speaking Dari] Many people may make such a claim. However, they may have other motives. These are baseless claims.

RAMITA NAVAI:

I’ve also spoken to former female prisoners who've said that some prisoners were told if they married Talibs they would be released. Will you investigate that?

BILAL KARIMI:

[Speaking Dari] I won't comment on that. It's completely baseless.

RAMITA NAVAI:

I’ve spoken to some families who’ve told me that Talibs are forcefully marrying women and girls. Why is this happening?

BILAL KARIMI:

[Speaking Dari] We tell everyone that you must follow Islamic standards. We will never allow our people to commit such indecent acts. Other countries should not impose on us what is good for them. We have our own culture, interests and values. The international community must allow us to build our own government.

March 8, 2022

RAMITA NAVAI:

International Women’s Day. The Taliban had set up extra checkpoints across Kabul. Arifa and her group told me they hoped to stage a demonstration.

They’re having problems leaving their homes. One of them left a voice message to tell me that there were two Talibs right on her street. The Talibs do not want women protesting today.

In the end, the women decided to avoid the streets but they still wanted to get their message out.

ARIFA:

[Speaking Dari] Hi, Ramita, are you guys well?

RAMITA NAVAI:

[Speaking Dari] Thank you, I'm glad to see you.

Are you not scared that they will arrest you and throw you in prison?

ARIFA:

[Speaking Dari] This is the road I have chosen. I have three younger sisters. If I don't raise my voice for them, they too will be broken.

I just want to say thank you for being able to make it here in the situation that we find ourselves.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Arifa had brought with her a work by the poet Mohammad Sharif Saeedi, written for the women of Afghanistan.

ARIFA:

[Speaking Dari] Oh women, it is night, so wail.

What is the point when you are silent?

The only thing that is left is your voice.

There is no reason to be silent.

With the thread of your voice, sew the flag of rebellion.

Those who fight and protest, congratulations. In the hope of an equal and beautiful Afghanistan where a woman is considered to be a human being. Thank you.

 

Lena and Wahida were released from prison and recently fled abroad.

 

Arifa has left Afghanistan and now lives in Norway.

 

Maryam has left the safe house.

She now lives in Iran.

54m
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