Taliban beats protesters and arrests journalists at women’s rally in Kabul

KABUL, Afghanistan —

After being shut out from the Taliban’s new government, women increased pressure on Afghanistan’s new rulers with a number of protests Wednesday, at least one of which was broken up by Taliban fighters who whipped some of the demonstrators and arrested local journalists.

The protests came one day after the Taliban announced an interim Cabinet composed exclusively of the group’s stalwarts, with no women or former political figures and few minorities. The protests were modest, with just a handful of women participating in each case. However, the new government was put to the test when it declared that covering protests and participation in them is illegal without permission from the government.

The rallies illustrated the reality that, though the Taliban may now stand virtually unchallenged on the battlefield, the group faces a more complicated task in getting fearful Afghans — especially women and those living in cities — to buckle under its rule. The militant group is becoming less patient and more violent when it comes to addressing criticisms amid calls for greater civil rights.

A video was posted to social media showing a Taliban fighter whipping a demonstrator while several women shouted and ran away. The Times confirmed the exact location of the video. Two Afghan journalists were taken by police to be beaten with pipe and rifle butts.

Protesters gathered Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. close to a bank along the main thoroughfare that bisecting Dasht-e-Barchi. This is a southwestern Kabul neighbourhood dominated by the Hazara minority. They formed a semicircle around each other and held up printed signs in Dari as well as English. One of them read, “Why is the world watching us silently and cruelly?”

Protesters march through a neighborhood holding signs

Protesters marched through Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood on Wednesday, one day after the Taliban declared its new all-male interim government without any representation for women or ethnic minorities.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Soon after, they began their march down Shaheed Mazari Road, holding up their signs and shouting, “Azadi!” — freedom — as a parade of minivans, motorcycles and ’90s Toyota Corollas passed by them.

At the back, Rahela Talash was carrying a portable speaker with broken handle. It is completely wrong. This is why we are here,” she said, adding that the Taliban’s government was almost completely chosen from the dominant Pashtun ethnic group.

There was also a notable omission in the new Cabinet compared with the government of deposed President Ashraf Ghani: The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which had existed since late 2001, after the Taliban was driven from power by a U.S.-led invasion, appears now to have been disbanded, a move that enraged many of those at the protest.

“It’s completely wrong that they don’t think about us. We are half of this society. They have to consider us,” said Mariam Shafaii, a 19-year-old student.

Journalist Taqi Daryabi displays his purple wounds on his lower back.

Journalist Taqi Daryabi shows his wounds Wednesday. After being detained while covering a women’s rights demonstration in Kabul, Afghanistan, he claimed that Taliban fighters beat and tortured him.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The Taliban indicated that it was losing patience in protests. “For the last few days, a lot of people in Kabul have taken to the street in the name of demonstrations. They disrupt security, harass people and disrupt normal life.”

05176 “All citizens are informed that for the time being, they are not [to try] to hold demonstrations under any name or title.”

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Shafaii wasn’t deterred. She said, “We won’t keep quiet.”

In another sobering turn, the Taliban has reinstituted a ministry for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice, which was notorious during the group’s 1996-2001 rule for its brutal enforcement of the militants’ ultraconservative brand of Islam. The ministry presided over the amputation of thieves’ hands and the stoning deaths of women found guilty of adultery.

“The Taliban were at a crossroads: Choose a path that would mollify the international community… by being more open and inclusive, or they could have taken the easy path of appeasing their own rank-and-file and going back to what had worked for them in the 1990s,” said Ibraheem Bahiss, an Afghanistan consultant with the International Crisis Group. “They very much chose the latter.”

That choice was met with opprobrium, with many nations expressing their disapproval of a government makeup that was exclusively Taliban. At a press conference held Wednesday at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, U.S. Secretary Antony J. Blinken stated that “The government certainly doesn’t meet the test for inclusivity.” “We’re also concerned by the affiliations and track records of some of those individuals.”

Roughly half of the Cabinet’s members are under U.S. or United Nations sanctions. FBI placed a $5 million bounty on Sirajuddin Haqqani as acting interior minister. Blinken said that he would wait until “actions” were taken to evaluate the government and decide its legitimacy. This will also determine the future of U.S.Afghan relations.

On Wednesday, after 45 minutes of walking, the protesters in Kabul came upon a parked Humvee. Four Taliban fighters moved to push the women back. Despite the AK-47s the fighters carried, the women swarmed toward them, shouting and arguing with the leader until he relented and allowed them to continue.

But others fighting near the Karte Char station in Kabul were more tolerant. There, another group of demonstrators shouted and toted signs before bewildered Taliban members, many of them young men from rural areas, where little of the West’s campaign for female equality has trickled down over the last 20 years.

When two Los Angeles Times journalists approached, the fighters broke away from the protest and surrounded them, lunging for one of the journalists’ cameras. The fighters then pushed them towards the police station where several local journalists were already detained.

“It’s not allowed to photograph these protests,” one of the Taliban leaders said after examining a media permit.

A younger Taliban fighter with kohl-lined brown eyes stated that it was prohibited to photograph women.

“Why are you doing this? He said, “This is against Islam.”

The Times journalists were escorted to their car and were watched until they left.

Journalists from the Etilaat Roz newspaper show purple wounds on their backs

Journalists from the Etilaat Roz newspaper, Nemat Naqdi, 28, a video journalist, left, and Taqi Daryabi, 22, video editor, show their wounds Wednesday. After being detained for reporting on a women’s rights demonstration in Kabul, Afghanistan, they claimed that Taliban fighters beat and tortured them.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Five journalists from Etilaatroz, an Etilaatroz newspaper, were still inside the station. Two of them had been taken into custody at the beginning of the protest. Two Etilaatroz journalists and an editor came to the station in an attempt to persuade Taliban officials to release their colleague. They were also detained. A Euronews producer from the local area was also taken into custody.

The Euronews producer was repeatedly hit in the face by three Taliban members. They took his wallet and phone, according to a colleague. He was uninjured and both were returned to him after he was released.

The Etilaatroz reporters first arrested, video journalist Nemat Naqdi, 28, and video editor Taqi Daryabi, 22, were spotted by the Taliban and told they didn’t have permission to film. They grabbed Daryabi, and then dragged him into the station. Naqdi was able to flee.

Two men show their purple wounds on their backs and legs

Journalists from the Etilaat Roz newspaper, Nemat Naqdi, 28, a video journalist, left, and Taqi Daryabi, 22, video editor, show their wounds. After being taken into custody at a women’s rights demonstration in Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, they claim that Taliban fighters beat and tortured them.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

” They didn’t allow me to resist,” Daryabi stated. He claimed he was pushed to the ground and tortured, then beaten unconscious. He was then taken to a backyard and water was poured over him. They brought Naqdi to him.

“We were shouting that we are journalists. Naqdi stated that they didn’t seem to care. “I thought they were going after me. They kept on ridiculing us, asking if we were filming them.” .They kept on ridiculing us, asking if we were filming them.”

When the two journalists were finally told to leave, they couldn’t find their shoes. They were finally allowed to return their phones, but Naqdi’s glasses were not. He claimed that he couldn’t walk to the car. Daryabi later released a video showing him limping and unable to walk alone. He is being supported by two colleagues.

Pressure against the Taliban is rising on other fronts as well, notably in Panjshir, a province long locked in battle with the group. This week, the Taliban announced their takeover of the province. The National Resistance Front (NRF), an anti-Taliban group that includes Ahmad Massoud, the son of the famous Northern Alliance guerillla leader said they are still fighting.

Ghani, the deposed president who fled the country when the Taliban reached Kabul, issued a statement from his exile in the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday saying that leaving the capital was “the most difficult decision of my life.” But he said he believed it was the only way to save the city and that he had no intention of abandoning the Afghan people.

” “It is with deep regret that my chapter ended in the same tragedy as my predecessors — without ensuring stability or prosperity,” he said. “I apologize to the Afghan people that I could not make it end differently.”

That apology — observers dryly noted that though Ghani said his speech was for the Afghan people, it was published only in English — had little effect on Daryabi, who is now confronting a more troubling power. He said that the Taliban had not changed and that he was looking for a way out of the country.

Naqdi agreed.

“Absolutely there is no safety. Journalism doesn’t mean anything to them.”

Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson in Germany contributed to this report.

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