KABUL: Taliban forces on Thursday used gunfire to disperse a women’s rally in the Afghan capital in support of protests in Iran over the death of a woman in morality police custody.

Neighbours Afghanistan and Iran are both run by hardline Islamist governments that use religious police to enforce strict dress codes on women.

Dozens of people have been killed in demonstrations that have erupted over 22-year-old Mahsa Amini’s death in Tehran after she was arrested for allegedly breaching rules on hijabs and modest clothing.

Chanting the same “Women, life, freedom” mantra used in Iran, about 25 women protested in front of Kabul’s Iranian embassy before Taliban forces fired into the air, a correspondent reported.

Editorial: Iran hijab protests

“The message of today’s demonstration in Kabul is that women are not alone in the world and are demanding their rights from the international community,” a woman activist who took part in the protest said.

Another protester in Kabul, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said by phone that “we need to end these horrific governments”. “People here are also tired of the Taliban’s crimes. We are sure that one day our people will rise in the same way as the Iranian people,” she said.

Women in headscarves carried banners that read: “Iran has risen, now it’s our turn!” and “From Kabul to Iran, say no to dictatorship!” Taliban forces swiftly snatched the banners and tore them in front of the protesters.

They also threatened to beat the protesters with their rifle butts, and ordered some journalists to delete videos of the rally.

Protests staged by women in Afghanistan have become increasingly rare after the detention of core activists at the start of the year.

Like in Iran, Afghan women risk arrest, violence and stigma for taking part in demonstrations calling for their rights.

Since returning to power, the Taliban have issued a slew of restrictions controlling women’s lives based on their strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law. Many of the rules — including dress code, segregation from men and travelling with a male guardian — are monitored by the Taliban’s vice and virtue police, who roam the streets dressed in white.

Women must fully cover themselves in public, preferably with the all-encompassing burqa, according to the rules, which are enforced with varying rigour across the country.

Iran targets celebrities, media

Iran stepped up pressure on celebrities and journalists on Thursday over the wave of women-led protests sparked by outrage over the death of Mahsa Amini after she was arrested by the Islamic republic’s morality police.

Filmmakers, athletes, musicians and actors have backed the demonstrations, and many saw it as a signal when the national football team remained in their black tracksuits when the anthems were played before a match in Vienna against Senegal.

“We will take action against the celebrities who have fanned the flames of the riots,” Tehran provincial governor Mohsen Mansouri said, according to the ISNA news agency.

Iran’s judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei similarly charged that “those who became famous thanks to support from the system have joined the enemy when times are difficult”.

Read: Iran and the hijab

The warnings came after almost two weeks of protests across Iran and a deadly crackdown that, human rights group Amnesty International says, has been marked by “ruthless violence by security forces”.

Public anger flared after Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, died on September 16, three days after her arrest for allegedly breaching Iran’s strict rules for women on wearing hijab headscarves and modest clothing.

“Woman, Life, Freedom!” protesters have chanted ever since, in Iran’s biggest demonstrations in almost three years, in which women have defiantly burned their headscarves and cut their hair

President Ebrahim Raisi warned that, despite “grief and sorrow” over Amini’s death, public security “is the red line of the Islamic republic of Iran and no one is allowed to break the law and cause chaos”.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2022

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