M. Mursal and Laila Yousufi
On September 29, the director of the women’s prison in the western city of Herat went missing. Now, her family and women’s rights activists are demanding accountability from the Taliban.
Nazir Arefi, Alia Azizi’s brother, said the family believes the Taliban imprisoned her. “The Taliban are involved in her disappearance. We thought she was kidnapped initially, but now we think she was taken by the Taliban,” Arefi told Rukhshana Media on Thursday.
Now, there is a campaign on social media and on the streets asking for the release of Alia Azizi, who worked in the police force for the past 15 years, most recently as the director of the women’s prison.
A Taliban official in Herat who spoke anonymously rejected her detention by the Taliban in Herat.
A group of women activists in the Afghan capital, Kabul, held a demonstration on Thursday, demanding the immediate release of Azizi who has gone missing since September 2021.
The protest in Kabul was held under the banner that reads, “Why is a woman imprisoned for no crime?”
The Taliban soldiers quickly arrived at the protest scene and dispersed the protesters by forcefully sizing the banners and stopping the journalists from covering the event.
“Without even listening to what we wanted, they violently took down the banners and detained a journalist who was covering the protest,” Shamayel Tawana Nasiri, an organizer, told Rukhshana Media. She added that the journalist was released after the protesters agreed to end the protest and leave.
In an interview in October, Alia’s elder brother, Bashir Arefi, said Alia went missing a month after the Taliban asked her to resume her work in the prison.
“Around 1:30 pm on Saturday, September 29, someone called her and asked her to come to the prison gate,” Bashir Arefi said in an interview in October. “That night, she didn’t come home, and she is still missing.”
Her family reported her disappearance to the Taliban officials in Herat.
In October, Ammar Mohajer, the Taliban’s deputy governor in Herat province, confirmed to Rukhshana Media that they received a complaint from Alia’s family and have instructed their officials to find her. But Mohajer said a “family dispute” may be the reason for her disappearance, a possibility Alia’s family rejected.
But after close to 4 months, there has been no information on her whereabouts since that fateful night. The activists have taken the advocacy on social media, calling for her release, and they have planned a social media campaign on January 15 with hashtag, #Release_Alia.
The power of social media was recently demonstrated in Afghanistan when social media campaigns led to the release of a Kabul University lecturer. Faizullah Jalal, who daringly criticised the Taliban suppression of freedom of speech, was arrested for “inciting people against the system,” an accusation made based on a fake social media account.
There are widespread fears that the Taliban is taking revenge on Afghans who worked for the previous U.S.-backed government. Despite the amnesty announced by the Taliban leaders for the former government employees, in a report released on November 30, the Human Rights Watch documented the killings and the forceful disappearance of security personnel in four provinces. “Taliban forces in Afghanistan have summarily executed or forcibly disappeared more than 100 former police and intelligence officers in just four provinces since taking over the country,” the report said.