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CBS News, January 10, 2024

Taliban detains dozens of women in Afghanistan for breaking hijab rules with “modeling”

New Tactic and an Escalation of the Crackdown on Women's Rights.

Taliban enforce hejab

Afghanistan's Taliban rulers have rounded up dozens of women in an apparent crackdown on perceived violations of the group's strict dress code. Dozens of women and girls were detained briefly last week in Kabul, a senior Taliban spokesperson told CBS News on Monday, confirming what appeared to be a new tactic in the group's efforts to curb women's rights.

The arrests by the Taliban's morality police occurred over several days and first came to light via videos and photos posted on social media. The Taliban confirmed the arrests after photos and video clips showed women being loaded onto the back of police pickup trucks in the capital city.

A spokesperson for the Taliban's Vice and Virtue Ministry, which enforces its harsh interpretation of Islam on both men and women, told CBS News the women were all either released on bail after several hours, or turned over to judicial authorities for further investigation. It was not clear how many people remained in custody after the mass arrests.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban regime's chief spokesperson, confirmed the arrests to CBS News on Monday, saying "a group of women who were involved in modeling to promote clothes were detained, advised in front of their family members, and released within hours. No woman was subject to imprisonment during this process."

In an interview with Afghan outlet TOLO News, which was later removed from the social media platform X, Mujahid, without providing evidence, said the women had received instruction from outside the country to promote violations of the group's rules requiring women and girls to wear the hijab, or headscarf, to cover their hair.

In a video published by the Afghanistan International news outlet, a young girl is seen in tears speaking about the Taliban detaining her sister as they both returned from their religious school in Kabul.

"The Taliban took my sister. We wore hijab and were holding the Quran in our hands. How do I explain this to my father?" the girl can be heard saying in the video, which was not independently verified by CBS News.

There were more arrests reported Monday. CBS News spoke with a sibling of a young woman whom they said was detained Monday morning and remained in Taliban custody late on Tuesday.

The person said that after several hours of searching, the family found the woman at a local police station late Tuesday evening, where Taliban officials demanded money, along with her passport and other documentation, as a penalty and "to guarantee that she will not violate the dress code in the future."

The family member said the authorities told the family they would "take her biometrics and photos, and if she violates the dress code in the future, she will be imprisoned for a longer period."

On Wednesday, the family told CBS News they paid the equivalent of about $2,200, which they had to borrow from relatives and friends, to secure the woman's release. They sent CBS News photos showing bruises they said the woman sustained when she was beaten by authorities in custody.

In addition, they said Taliban officials made them hand over their home ownership documents and that the woman's father and brother had to sign "a document stating that she would not go out without a male chaperon and hijab."

The family said they were warned that if the woman was found violating the dress code again, "she will be imprisoned without legal representation and according to Islamic law."

The United Nations special envoy for Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, called for the immediate release of all the women who were detained.

"Recent arrests of women in Kabul Afghanistan for 'bad hijab', confirmed by the Taliban, regrettably signified further restrictions on women's freedom of expression and undermines other rights," Bennett said in a social media post. "They should all be released immediately and without conditions."

Recent arrests of women in Kabul #Afghanistan for "bad hijab", confirmed by #Taliban, regrettably signifies further restrictions on women's freedom of expression and undermines other rights. They should all be released immediately and without conditions.

— UN Special Rapporteur Richard Bennett (@SR_Afghanistan) January 5, 2024

Amid the criticism and media coverage, the Taliban's Ministry of Vice and Virtue issued a statement on suggesting the women and girls had been picked up for begging on Kabul's streets and noting that they would be released after their biometrics were taken, though no supporting evidence was provided to back the new explanation for the detentions.

Since retaking control of Afghanistan after the U.S. military withdrawal in August 2021, the Taliban has reintroduced many draconian rules limiting the public lives of women and girls in the country.

Girls are not permitted to attend school after the age of 12 and women are barred from universities. They're also banned from visiting parks, participating in sports, working in many sectors — including for international non-profit organizations — forbidden from running beauty salons or visiting public baths, and even from traveling outside their homes without a male chaperon.

"They have expedited their war against women," Fawzia Koofi, a former female member of Afghanistan's parliament, said in a social media post in reaction to the recent arrests. "On a daily basis, their morality police arrests tens of women from the streets of Kabul. To the Taliban, every woman in Afghanistan is guilty to be proven innocent."

Torek Farhadi, a veteran political analyst on the region, told CBS News the Taliban's rigid enforcement of its rules set Afghanistan apart from even other conservative Islamic ruled nations.

"The Taliban's interpretation of Islamic sharia [law] is again off the mark from what is in practice in other Islamic countries, just as is their decision on girls' education, barring them from going to school," he said, adding: "Now that they have the guns, they can impose their views on society."

When the Taliban first ruled over Afghanistan between 1994 and the 2001 U.S.-led military invasion, the group routinely arrested men and boys for shaving or trimming their beards, or for wearing jeans or other Western garments, and jailed them for days.

Analysts including Farhadi told CBS News that the Taliban's direct law enforcement intervention against women for alleged dress code violations, rather than punishing male relatives or guardians, appeared to be a new tactic and an escalation of the crackdown on women's rights.

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