Taliban is targeting LGBT Afghans

Map of Afghanistan with Rainbow flag colors
Map of Afghanistan with Rainbow flag colors

Surge in LGBT threats, rape, assault, and wrongful detention continue

LGBTQ Afghans, and other Afghans who do not conform to rigid gender norms, have faced grave threats to their safety and lives under the Taliban according to a recent OutRight Action International and Human Rights Watch report. 

The 43-page report titled, ‘Even If You Go to the Skies, We’ll Find You’: LGBT People in Afghanistan After the Taliban Takeover, is based on 60 interviews with LGBT Afghans, many of which reported that Taliban members attacked or threatened them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Others interviewed reported abuse from family members, neighbors and romantic partners who now support the Taliban, or believed they had to act against LGBT people close to them to ensure their own safety.

Although most interviewees were in Afghanistan, some fled their homes from attacks by Taliban members or supporters pursuing them. They had fled to nearby countries, which brought on worries about these countries’ laws against same-sex relations. Additionally, these interviewees outside Afghanistan lacked proper immigration status and were at risk of being summarily deported. 

Those who stayed in Afghanistan watched lives they had carefully built over the years disappear overnight. They found themselves at risk of being targeted at any time because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We spoke with LGBT Afghans who have survived gang rape, mob attacks, or have been hunted by their own family members who joined the Taliban, and they have no hope that state institutions will protect them,” said J. Lester Feder, senior fellow for emergency research at OutRight Action International. “For those LGBT people who want to flee the country, there are few good options; most of Afghanistan’s neighbors also criminalize same-sex relations. It is difficult to overstate how devastating—and terrifying—the return of Taliban rule has been for LGBT Afghans.”

Well before the Taliban retook full control of the country on August 15, 2021, Afghanistan was a dangerous place for LGBTQ people. In 2018, the government of then-President Ashraf Ghani passed a law that explicitly criminalized same-sex sexual relations. The previous penal code included vague language widely interpreted as making same-sex relations a criminal offense.

LGBTQ people interviewed had experienced many abuses because of their sexual orientation or gender identity prior to the Taliban’s return to power, including sexual violence, child and forced marriage, physical violence from their families and others, expulsion from schools, blackmail and being outed. Many were forced to conceal key aspects of their identity from society and from family, friends and colleagues.

However, when the Taliban, who had been in power from 1996 to late 2001, regained control of the country, the situation dramatically worsened. The Taliban reaffirmed the previous government’s criminalization of same-sex relations, and some of its leaders vowed to take a hard line against the rights of LGBT people.

In October, a Taliban spokesperson told Reuters, “LGBT… That’s against our Sharia [Islamic] law.”

A Taliban judge told the German tabloid Bild shortly before the fall of Kabul, “For homosexuals, there can only be two punishments: either stoning, or he must stand behind a wall that will fall down on him.” A manual issued by the Taliban Ministry of Vice and Virtue in 2020 states that religious leaders shall prohibit same-sex relations and that “strong allegations” of homosexuality shall be referred to the ministry’s district manager for adjudication and punishment. 

Despite making repeated pledges to respect human rights, the Taliban have engaged in widespread rights abuses since retaking control of the country, including revenge killings, systematic discrimination against women and girls, severe restrictions on freedom of expression and the media, and land grabbing. In this context, marked by systematic abuse of power combined with virulent anti-LGBT sentiment, Taliban officials and their supporters have carried out acts of violence against LGBTQ people with impunity.

A gay man said that Taliban members detained him at a checkpoint, beat him, and gang-raped him, telling him, “From now on anytime we want to be able to find you, we will. And we will do whatever we want with you.” A lesbian said that after the Taliban takeover, her male relatives joined the Taliban and threatened to kill her because of her sexual orientation.

Most people interviewed believed their only path to safety was asylum in a country with greater protections for LGBTQ people, but very few LGBTQ Afghans escaping Afghanistan are known to have reached a safe country. Only the United Kingdom has publicly announced that it has resettled a small number of LGBT Afghans. Organizations assisting LGBT Afghans say that hundreds of people have contacted them, seeking international protection and resettlement.

“The Taliban have explicitly pledged not to respect LGBT Afghans rights,” said Heather Barr, associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s critically important for concerned governments to urgently put pressure on the Taliban to respect the rights of LGBT people, ensure that assistance they provide Afghanistan reaches LGBT people, and recognize that LGBT Afghans seeking asylum face a special risk of persecution in Afghanistan and neighboring countries.”