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UN ‘deeply concerned’ by detentions of Afghan women

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan has said it was “deeply concerned” by “recent arbitrary arrests and detentions” of Afghan women, accused of flouting hijab rules set by Taliban authorities.

The Afghan government quickly dismissed the statement from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) as “propaganda”.

Media reports and social media posts in recent days have said women had been detained by Taliban authorities for not wearing proper hijab, as per a decree calling for women to be covered entirely except for their hands and eyes, though many women still go out in the capital Kabul without covering their mouths.

UNAMA said in a press release it had documented “a series of campaigns” by police and the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice over hijab since 1 January in Kabul and the central Daykundi province.

It added it was probing “allegations of ill-treatment and incommunicado detention” as well as the targeting of religious and ethnic minority groups.

“UNAMA fears the current crackdown is pushing women into even greater isolation due to fear of arbitrary arrest, and creating a permissive environment for men to enforce repressive measures at home,” the release said.

UNAMA called for the immediate release of those in detention, adding it had discussed the issue with Taliban authorities.

“Enforcement measures involving physical violence are especially demeaning and dangerous for Afghan women and girls,” said UNAMA head Roza Otunbayeva.

“Detentions carry an enormous stigma that put Afghan women at even greater risk,” she added.

Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said UNAMA’s concerns were misplaced.

“Afghan women observe hijab by themselves, they don’t need to be forced, and no one was forced by officials of the Promotion of Virtues either,” he said on social media site X.

“The propaganda regarding this has no truth.”

On Tuesday, a Taliban official said before a gathering of religious scholars in Kabul’s western Dasht-e-Barchi area – an enclave of the historically persecuted Shiite Hazara community – that several girls and women were detained recently in Kabul for not covering themselves properly.

Since returning to power in August 2021, Taliban authorities have imposed a strict interpretation of Islam, with women bearing the brunt of laws the United Nations has labelled “gender apartheid”.

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