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

Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in late August, the persecution of the country’s LGBT + community has intensified, forcing many to go underground, fearing for their lives. “We now know for a fact that the Taliban have a ‘murder list’,” said the director of Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian NGO that helps 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 the Muslim-majority country, where, even under the former Western-backed government, non-heterosexual relationships were illegal and could lead to 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 say how it plans to deal with acts of homosexuality, reports increasingly suggest that the Taliban are applying a strict interpretation of Sharia law, according to which same-sex relationships can be punished. with death.

“This is a really scary time to be in Afghanistan,” Rainbow Railroad CEO Kimahli Powell, the only international LGBT + organization on the ground in Afghanistan, told Jowharin a telephone interview.

“We now know for a fact that the Taliban have a ‘kill list’ circulating, which identifies LBTQI + people.”

According to Powell, the Taliban most likely benefited from the power vacuum that took place in the days and weeks leading up to the US withdrawal deadline to draw up these “death lists,” paying particular attention to the names of the people to whom the foreign rights groups belonged. trying to evacuate. “After the fall of Kabul, a lot of information was shared,” he said, noting that people who never got on board any of the departing flights were left vulnerable, with their identities exposed.

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

“[Some] People who have contacted us have told us how they have received a mysterious email from someone claiming to be connected to Rainbow Railroad asking for their information and passport. This is how we know the information has been leaked. ”

Increase in requests for help

Rainbow Railroad was founded in 2006 with the goal of helping at-risk LGBT + people around the world flee violence and persecution in their home countries. In 2017, the group rose to world fame after helping more than 100 people escape persecution during Chechnya’s deadly anti-gay purge. In recent months, however, most of his efforts have focused on Afghanistan, where he is helping threatened members of the local LGBT + community find temporary shelter in safe houses, after which he attempts to take them “overland or by air “. to permanent security abroad.

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

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

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

Burnt passport

Powell described a recent incident in which the Rainbow Railroad was actively working to get a threatened individual to safety, but was then suddenly subjected to a raid by the Taliban. “People entered the house without any type of uniform, and while they looted the place they discovered information that made them suspect that the person was part of the [LGBT+] community. They then took his phone, through which they confirmed that the person was part of the community and proceeded to physically attack and humiliate the person. Then they found his passport and burned him. ”

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

Delivered by family members

Powell described the current climate in Afghanistan as “lawless,” and said the general uncertainty and unpredictability of what the Taliban government implies for the population as a whole has even led some people to turn over their family members on suspicion. of LGBT + activity.

“Like I said, these are really scary times and people are trying to win the favor of the Taliban,” he said. “I think everyone is trying to navigate that environment, so if (the Taliban) have identified LGBTQ + people as a target, there is an incentive to hand them over.”

Powell said this has left members of Afghanistan’s LGBT + community even more vulnerable and isolated as they cannot even count on the support and protection of their families. In the meantime, he said, they have no choice but to hide.

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

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