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Taliban's violent response to peaceful protests across Afghanistan

Ravina Shamdasani

New Delhi, Sep 11 (UITV/IANS) - Peaceful protesters in many parts of Afghanistan have met with an increasingly violent response from the new Taliban authorities over the past four weeks, including the use of live ammunition, batons and whips, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said on Friday.

OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said the Taliban issued an instruction prohibiting unauthorised assemblies. A day later, they ordered telecommunications companies to switch off access to internet on mobile phones in specific areas of Kabul.

Shamdasani said that as Afghan women and men take to the streets during this time of great uncertainty, "it is crucial that those in power listen to their voices".

"We call on the Taliban to immediately cease the use of force towards, and the arbitrary detention of, those exercising their right to peaceful assembly and the journalists covering the protests," she added.

From August 15 to 19, people had gathered in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces to mark national flag-raising ceremonies. Credible reports indicate that during that period, the Taliban reportedly killed a man and a boy, and injured eight others with live fire, in an apparent attempt to disperse the crowds.

On September 7, during a protest in Herat, the Taliban reportedly shot and killed two men and wounded seven others. That same day in Kabul, further credible reports indicate that the Taliban beat and detained protesters, including several women and up to 15 journalists.

On Wednesday, as a largely female group of demonstrators gathered in the Dashti-Barchi area of Kabul, at least five journalists were arrested and two were severely beaten for several hours.

The OHCHR added that during a demonstration in Faizabad city in Badakhshan province held by several women, including activists and human rights defenders, the Taliban fired in the air and allegedly beat several protesters.

A small group of women in Kabul was violently dispersed, as the Taliban fired shots in the air over their heads. That same day, women were violently dispersed during protests in Kapisa and Takhar provinces, and several women's rights activists in Kapisa were detained.

Shamdasani recalled that peaceful protests are protected under international human rights law.

She said that "authorities must ensure a safe, enabling and non-discriminatory environment for the exercise of human rights, including freedom of expression and peaceful assembly".

Blanket restrictions on peaceful assemblies constitute a violation of international law, as do blanket internet shutdowns which usually violate the principles of necessity and proportionality.

Journalists involved in reporting on assemblies must not face reprisals or other harassment, even if an assembly is declared unlawful or is dispersed, the OHCHR said.

The spokesperson reminded that "there is an obligation to ensure that any use of force in response to protests is a last resort, strictly necessary and proportionate, and firearms must never be used except in response to an imminent threat of death or serious injury".

Rather than banning peaceful protests, she added, "the Taliban should cease the use of force and ensure the freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, including as a means for people to voice their concerns and exercise their right to participate in public affairs".