From in-between fear and hope: A glimpse at the perilous situation of LGBTQ community in Afghanistan
Afghan LGBT

From in-between fear and hope: A glimpse at the perilous situation of LGBTQ community in Afghanistan

29 Nov 2022

“I wanted to become a doctor and serve my people, but now not only can I not study, but my girlfriend and I live in fear of being forced into marriage, a life of torture and slow death.” This is what Samira, a queer woman, told me over the phone. She talked about her worries and fears with a trembling voice throughout the conversation. Samira is one of thousands of queer people whose lives have undergone many upheavals and changes due to their gender identity and sexual orientation after the Taliban took power.

The return of the Taliban last summer raised serious concerns about the future of human rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and media freedom in Afghanistan. Though Zabiullah Mujahid, the official Taliban spokesman, announced that women and the media could function in their system, everything has turned upside down for women and LGBTQ community in the past year. 

Last July, just before Kabul fell, one of its judges, Gul Rahim, told the German newspaper Bild: “We have two punishments for homosexuals: either stoning, or they have to stand behind a wall that will fall on their heads. The wall should be 2.5 to 3 metres high.” This is a method of punishment used by the Taliban when they were in power between 1996 and 2001.

In February 1998, Taliban leader Mullah Omar ordered three people to be buried alive for 30 minutes in the city of Kandahar for the crime of homosexuality. AIP news agency reported that this order was given by the Taliban leader himself who said that if they survived after 30 minutes then they would be spared and pardoned. All three people survived and were reportedly taken to hospital.

In March 1998, the Taliban executed two people, Besmullah (22 years old) and Abdul Sami (18 years old) on charges of sodomy and homosexuality in Herat. The Taliban radio station, Voice of Shariat, announced the news of execution.

Media coverage of these cases was limited. Due to Taliban repression, the media could not investigate what was happening away from public view. Therefore, there is no accurate information about the actual number of executions or other methods of eliminating and suppressing the LGBTQ community by the Taliban when they were previously in power.

While many countries are passing protective laws for LGBTQ people that decriminalize non-heterosexual and homosexual relationships, Afghanistan has witnessed an unprecedented setback in women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and human rights in general. Although conditions for LGBTQ community were not ideal under the previous government, the Taliban’s rise to power has wiped out any opportunities to live in dignity, security, and freedom.

On January 26, 2022, Human Rights Watch published a report titled “Even if you fly to the skies, we will find you.” In this report, 60 members of the queer community of Afghanistan were interviewed. Most were subjected to violence by the Taliban. This report documents the murder of a gay man, whose body was dismembered by the Taliban.

Suleiman, another 19-year-old gay man, was flogged 80 times by the Taliban. In an interview with Ranginkaman Radio last year, he recounted his experience of how the Taliban searched his mobile phone at a checkpoint, going through his personal photos, and, after seeing signs homosexuality, arrested him. The Taliban gave him 80 lashes on his back for the photos and another 80 lashes on the soles of his feet because he had a tattoo on his arm.

During this period, some countries tried to help vulnerable groups such as artists, female activists, sexual and gender minorities, to leave Afghanistan. However, what happened at the Kabul airport was nothing short of a tragedy. The hasty withdrawal of foreign forces in the absence of a coordinated plan for evacuation caused many vulnerable groups to remain under the Taliban. Yas, an Afghan trans woman, says of her experience: “When the Taliban took power, I was very scared. I tried to go to the airport where I might be able to escape with foreign flights. I heard that foreign countries help people like us. After a difficult ordeal I reached the gate of the airport. I saw a foreign soldier there and told him I am trans and begged him to save me. But that soldier pushed me with anger and rage. At the airport, the Taliban even whipped me several times and said, ‘Are you a woman? Or a man?’ ”

After the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, several organizations, not named for security reasons, tried to evacuate the people who were remaining under the Taliban. Due to their joint efforts, a few individuals entered Europe or neighbouring countries. In the meantime, some of the members of the Afghan LGBTQ community are still living in dire situations in neighbouring countries. They do not believe that they are safe . They are still living in fear of persecution. For example, in Iran, homosexuality is punished by flogging or even execution, and in Pakistan and Tajikistan, the situation for queer community is not ideal, either.

Mani is a trans man from Baghlan in northern Afghanistan. Due to his gender identity, he has experienced many physical and mental abuses. Now, he has settled in Sweden a few months ago and started a new life, though he is suffering from severe depression and has twice attempted suicide.

Mani adds, “When I arrived in Sweden, I felt like a bird that was released from the cage. I am glad that I am not in any danger. But I have severe depression and have nightmares at night. Every day I have anxiety and worry about my sister who lives alone in Baghlan.”

According to the reports by LGBTQI+ rights organizations, the life of the LGBTQ community in Afghanistan is miserable. Their mental health issues has increased in the past year, and the cases of suicide attempts, depression, and post-traumatic disorders have increased significantly. What makes the prospects of life for the members of the community in Afghanistan even bleaker is the general anguish brought about by the overall political crisis. There is a deep despair and endless fear in Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban.

Note: Names were changed in this report to protect the identities of individuals mentioned.

Artemis Akbary is an LGBTQ rights activist from Afghanistan.


Help Afghan LGBTQ people get out of hell