Under the Taliban terrorist group’s rule in Afghanistan, a significant number of women have been taken from their homes and the streets and imprisoned by the group. These women have been subjected to torture, confinement, and inhumane treatment, on charges related to their gender, participation in street protests, and ethnicity.
Obtaining accurate statistics on the number of women who have been detained by the Taliban and their current status is a daunting task. Additionally, accessing those women who have experienced imprisonment by the Taliban presents a significant challenge.
Many women who have been captured and incarcerated by the Taliban do not share their stories after being released. This silence is often due to security threats posed by the group and the traumatic impact of the experience on the women’s mental health.
Some women, however, who have managed to flee Afghanistan and find safety after being released from the group’s prisons have spoken out about their ordeal. These protesting women have repeatedly shared their accounts of the Taliban’s prisons, exposing the widespread violation of human rights, humiliating treatment, and torture inflicted on prisoners.
This report features an interview by Nimrokh with three protesting women who experienced harrowing conditions in the Taliban prison. Parwana Ebrahimkhel, Wahida Amiri, and Lina Ahmadi recount how they were arrested, the physical and mental torture they endured in captivity, and their current situation.
“We Are A Group That Beheads”
On the evening of January 18, 2022, the Taliban militants intercepted a vehicle carrying Parwana Ebrahimkhel and several of her family members, in the fifth district of Kabul City. The group seized their mobile phones, then two of them sat in the car and took them to a desolate alley in the vicinity.
Ebrahimkhel told Nimrokh that, on the way, her mother had asked the men who they were. In response, one of them had stated, “We are a group that beheads, and your daughter understands that.”
She says that her mother had asked the man, “What sin has my daughter committed that you are going to behead her?” To which the man responded, “Your daughter understands her sin.”
In a quiet alley in the fifth security district of Kabul City, the two armed Taliban fighters joined a group of dozens of other armed, non-uniformed fighters. There, they separated Parwana from her family and forced her into a private vehicle before driving away.
According to Parwana, when they arrived in the Women’s Garden area of Kabul City, one of the Taliban men ordered for Parwana’s eyes to be tied up, referring to her as “filth”. After her eyes were tied up, she was unaware of where the fighters were taking her.
Parwana spent one month incarcerated in the Taliban prison, along with her sister’s husband. Following her confinement, she was released by the Taliban under duress, having been coerced into providing a forced confession, a valid surety bond, and surrendering her identity card. Additionally, she was compelled to make a forced commitment to the Taliban, in which she vowed not to engage in any further protests, refrain from interviews with the media, remain within the borders of Afghanistan, and withhold any accounts of her traumatic experiences within the Taliban prison.
Parwana recounted the day of being released by the Taliban, stating that they blindfolded her once again before setting her free. Upon removal of the blindfold, she took a look at her surroundings and realized that she was in the Hangara area of Kabul City. However, she remained unaware of the precise location of the Taliban prison in which she had been incarcerated.
On February 11, 2022, a group of Taliban men launched an attack on a women’s shelter in Kabul, apprehending numerous women and children in the process. Two of the detained women were Wahida Amiri and Lina Ahmadi, both of whom had participated in public protests against the Taliban prior to their detention.
In an interview with Nimrokh, Lina Ahmadi described the terror she experienced on the night she was captured by the Taliban. She remarked on the frightful appearance of the men, suggesting that merely seeing their faces could have induced a stroke. Despite this intense fear, however, Ahmadi expressed confusion over the resilience of herself and others who were subjected to such horror. She pondered the origin of this strength, which allowed them to endure such brutality at the hands of the Taliban.
For Wahida Amiri, that night was one of the most harrowing experiences of her life. She recalls that the Taliban men were walking throughout the corridors of the shelter, relentlessly seeking her out by inquiring each other, “Is Wahida there?”
Approximately 40 individuals, including the two protesting women, were taken into custody by Taliban forces during the attack on the safe house. The captives, comprised of women, children, and men, were then transported to the Ministry of Interior in a convoy of armored vehicles. Upon arrival, they were confined to the Kindergarten of the Ministry of Interior, where they remained imprisoned for a duration of approximately twenty days.
The detained women were eventually released by the Taliban, following the airing of their coerced confessions. They were also compelled to provide a lease contract as a guarantee, and a forced commitment that they would not engage in further protests against the Taliban.
Lina Ahmadi acknowledged that in order to secure their release from captivity, she and others had no choice but to acquiesce to the demands of the Taliban. She explained that they were forced to sign documents agreeing to the terms set out by the captors, even though they did not necessarily agree with the contents of those documents. For Ahmadi and her fellow captives, the priority was to secure their release from captivity as quickly as possible.
Fear of Rape and Death Wish
As per the accounts given to Nimrokh by the three protesting women, they have been subjected to both physical and mental abuse, including humiliation and derogatory treatment, during their incarceration in the Taliban prison. Their greatest source of apprehension, however, has been the potential for sexual assault, a fear so intense that they have often wished for death.
According to Parwana Ebrahimkhel, the moment she fell into the Taliban’s custody, the militants commenced the torture. Upon arriving at Nadiria High School in Kabul, she recalls, “They struck me two times across the face, causing blood to pour from my mouth, and then proceeded to beat me with the butt of their guns and pistols on my back.”
She recalls that during her imprisonment, each interrogation session was accompanied by face slaps and menacing threats with cables and pipes.
Parwana further states that when the Taliban decided to grant her release, after procuring bail and coercing a confession from her on video, “they punched, kicked, and tortured me once again.”
According to Ebrahimkhel, the Taliban vituperated her parents, and referred to herself as a “whore” and “prostitute,” in addition to accusing her of having converted to Christianity.
Wahida Amiri and Lina Ahmadi did not report experiencing physical torture during their imprisonment in the Taliban’s custody, but they describe enduring intense psychological trauma and being subjected to verbal abuse and insults from the Taliban’s men.
Amiri recalls that the Taliban’s men subjected them to a barrage of insults, branding them as “American prostitutes,” “American spies,” “National Resistance Front spies,” and hurling other derogatory slurs such as “filthy.” The militants also demanded to know whom they were working for, why they were protesting, and how much funds had they taken.
When Amiri replied that they were protesting against the Taliban’s rule and policies, the men retorted, “Shut up, filthy! Talk sense.”
All three women have expressed that they were not afraid of death while in Taliban custody, but rather their most significant concern was the possibility of sexual assault and rape.
Wahida Amiri recounts an incident where she was singled out and summoned by the Taliban’s men at 5 am on the first day of their imprisonment.
Amiri recalls feeling an overwhelming sense of fear, not for her life, but for the possibility of being sexually assaulted. She says, “I felt like the earth and sky would collapse on me. I didn’t know where they would take me or what they would do to me. The fear of rape was so intense that I wished for death instead.”
Similarly, Parwana Ebrahimkhel shares that the fear of rape was her greatest apprehension during her time in the Taliban prison. She alleges that the militants had indirectly threatened her with rape, warning that if she were to fall into the hands of another group, she would either be raped or forced into marriage.
The threats were so severe that Ebrahimkhel admits that “death had become my biggest desire, and I was contemplating suicide.”
Lina Ahmadi expresses gratitude for being spared sexual assault during her imprisonment, acknowledging that her situation may have been vastly different had she experienced such an ordeal. She adds that life after such an event would be unbearable for her.
The Nightmare that Never Ends
These three women have been struggling with the psychological aftermath of their imprisonment, despite having been released over a year ago from the Taliban prison and having left Afghanistan.
Wahida Amiri resided in Kabul for two months following her release from Taliban custody but was eventually compelled to flee to Pakistan. However, during her escape, she sustained an injury to her leg which has yet to fully heal.
According to Wahida, her mental state significantly deteriorated during her time in Pakistan, stating that she “cried all the time” and wished to isolate herself, unwilling to talk to anyone.
She remains in a fragile physical and mental condition, which made it difficult for her to respond to Nimrokh’s questions in a timely manner. Even recounting the events that occurred during her time in Taliban captivity is enough to trigger a further deterioration of her mental state and cause her blood pressure to drop.
Similarly, Parwana Ebrahimkhel continues to grapple with the psychological impact of her imprisonment and torture, stating that she cannot help but cry when discussing her experiences in the Taliban prison. The pain of her trauma remains unbearable, and despite over a year having passed, she remains unable to come to terms with it.
According to Ebrahimkhel, grappling with the reality that a young person would choose death over remaining in the clutches of the Taliban is a difficult notion to accept. “It is incredibly challenging to come to terms with the fact that a young individual in the prime of her life would rather succumb to death than continue enduring the unbearable conditions of Taliban imprisonment,” she stated.
The torment inflicted upon Ebrahimkhel and other women held captive by the Taliban has become a recurring nightmare. “The torture I endured in the Taliban prison has evolved into a recurring and traumatic experience, manifesting in vivid nightmares that leave me screaming and feeling ill upon waking,” she says.
While it remains unclear how long these women will continue to suffer from their traumatic experiences in Taliban custody, their testimonies have shed light on the brutalities perpetrated within these prisons. Despite facing threats and torture, these women refuse to cower and are actively protesting against the Taliban, vowing to persist until the group is overthrown.