‘Taliban have death list’ for Afghan LGBT community, NGO says

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Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan at the end of August, persecution of the country’s LGBT + community has intensified, forcing many people to go underground, fearing for their lives. “We now know for sure that the Taliban have a ‘list to kill’,” said the head of Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian NGO that helps under-threatened Afghans flee into exile.

The situation for the LGBT + community in Afghanistan has never been easy. Same-sex relationships have always been taboo in this predominantly Muslim country, where, even under the former Western-backed government, non-heterosexual relationships were illegal and could result in up to two years in prison.

But since the Taliban came to power after the US military withdrawal on August 30, the situation has deteriorated rapidly. Although the militant group has yet to officially announce how it plans to deal with acts of homosexuality, reports increasingly suggest that the Taliban is applying a strict interpretation of Sharia law, under which same-sex relationships can be punished with death.

“It’s a really scary time to be in Afghanistan,” the executive director of Rainbow Railroad, the only international LGBT + organization on the ground in Afghanistan, told AXADLETM in a telephone interview.

“We now know for sure that the Taliban have a circulating ‘list of people to kill’ identifying LBTQI + people. “

According to Powell, the Taliban most likely took advantage of the power vacuum that occurred in the days and weeks leading up to the US withdrawal deadline to compile these “lists of people killed” by paying attention. particular to the names of the people that the foreign rights groups were. try to evacuate. “After the fall of Kabul there was a lot of information sharing,” he said, noting that people who never got on the departing flights were rather vulnerable, with their identities being exposed.

Powell also said that the Taliban appeared to have supplemented these lists with active persecution, through “traps” and data leaks.

“[Some] people who contacted us told us how they received a mysterious email from someone claiming to be related to Rainbow Railroad, asking for their information and passport. This is how we know the information was disclosed.

Increase in requests for assistance

Rainbow Railroad was founded in 2006 with the aim of helping at-risk LGBT + people around the world flee violence and persecution in their home countries. In 2017, the group gained worldwide fame after helping more than 100 people escape persecution during the deadly anti-gay purge in Chechnya. In recent months, however, most of his efforts have been focused on Afghanistan, where he helps threatened members of the local LGBT + community find temporary refuge in safe homes, after which he tries to bring them ” by land or air ”to permanent security abroad.

“I can already guarantee you that the number of requests we receive this year will increase,” said Powell, noting that for Afghanistan alone, the group has already responded to 700 requests this year and identified at least 200 more people “in the need”. immediate evacuation ”. The group typically receives an overall total of 4,000 requests for assistance per year.

In August, just before the departure of US troops, Rainbow Railroad helped dozens of at-risk LGBT Afghans to safety via the military airlift. Last Friday, the NGO helped bring another 29 people to Britain via a second airlift.

“There are individuals [in Afghanistan]who have been eager to help. But when it comes to LGBTQ organizations, it’s really just us there. But it allowed us to form partnerships with non-LGBTQI + groups that also brought people out, ”he said.

Burnt passport

Powell described a recent incident in which Rainbow Railroad was actively working to bring an endangered individual to safety, but then suddenly came under a Taliban raid. “People entered the house without any kind of uniform, and while ransacking the place, they discovered information which made them suspect that the person was part of the [LGBT+]community. Then they took their phone, through which they confirmed that the person was part of the community and proceeded to physically assault and humiliate the individual. Then they found their passport and burned it.

“The person is still there, and our job of trying to get them to safety is now infinitely more difficult,” he said.

Refused by family members

Powell described the current climate in Afghanistan as “lawless,” saying the general uncertainty and unpredictability of what Taliban rule means for the general population has even led some people to denounce members of their community. family for suspected LGBT + activities.

“Like I said, times are really scary and people are trying to curry favor with the Taliban,” he said. “I think everyone is trying to navigate this environment, and so if they (the Taliban) have identified LGBTQ + people as a target, there is an incentive to speak out against them.”

Powell said this has made members of the Afghan LGBT + community even more vulnerable and isolated, as they cannot even count on the support and protection of their families. Until then, he says, they have no choice but to go into hiding.

“This has been the most complicated mission we have ever done and continues to be.”

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