KABUL: Four women activists in Afghanistan have been released by the country’s “de facto authorities” after going missing weeks ago, the United Nations said on Sunday.

Since storming back to power in August, the Taliban have cracked down on dissent by forcefully dispersing women’s rallies, detaining critics and often beating local journalists covering unsanctioned protests.

Tamana Zaryabi Paryani, Parwana Ibrahimkhel, Zahra Mohammadi and Mursal Ayar went missing after participating in an anti-Taliban rally, but Afghanistan’s hardline Islamist rulers — whose government is still not recognised by any country — had consistently denied detaining them.

“After a long period of uncertainty about their whereabouts and safety, the four ‘disappeared’ Afghan women activists, as well as their relatives who also went missing, have all been released by the de facto authorities,” the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said on Twitter.

Ibrahimkhel went missing along with Paryani on January 19, days after taking part in a rally in Kabul calling for women’s right to work and education. Weeks later, Mohammadi and Ayar went missing. Some relatives of the four women protesters had also gone missing.

Shortly before she disappeared, foot­age of Paryani was shared on social media showing her in distress, warning of Taliban fighters at her door.

In the video, Paryani calls out: “Kindly help! Taliban have come to our home in Parwan 2. My sisters are at home.” It shows her telling the men behind the door: “If you want to talk, we’ll talk tomorrow. I cannot meet you in the night with these girls. I don’t want to (open the door)... Please! help, help!”

Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an interview recently that the authorities had the right “to arrest and detain dissidents or those who break the law”, after the government banned unsanctioned protests soon after coming to power.

The Taliban have promised a softer version of the harsh rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

But provincial authorities have imposed several restrictions on women and have issued regular guidelines on how they should live.

The new authorities have effectively barred women from working in several government sectors and most girls’ secondary schools remain shut. The Taliban have also issued an order that women cannot travel between cities and towns unless accompanied by a close male relative.

They have put up posters in many shops across Kabul and in other cities encouraging women to wear the all-covering burqa.

Earlier this month the Taliban detained two foreign journalists working for the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR. Former BBC correspondent Andrew North and another foreign journalist were released on Friday after days in detention, the UNHCR said.

Mujahid said they had been detained because they did not possess valid identity cards and documents.

A “number” of British nationals are also being detained in Afgha­nistan, the UK government said on Saturday, adding that it had raised the issue with officials there.

The Taliban are however under pressure from the international community to respect human rights as the group engages in talks with Western countries and global donors to secure aid for tackling Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis.

“UNAMA calls for the rights of every Afghan to be respected,” the UN mission said on Sunday.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2022

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