By Zahra Nader and Amie Ferris-Rotman
A 29-year-old activist and university lecturer, Frozan Safi, has been killed in northern Afghanistan, her family said late on Thursday, in what appears to be the first known death of a women’s rights defender since the Taliban swept to power almost three months ago.
The woman’s bullet-ridden body showed up in a morgue in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in late October after she went missing on October 20. “We recognised her by her clothes. Bullets had destroyed her face,” said her sister, Rita Safi, who is a medical doctor. “There were bullets all over, too many to count, on her head, heart, chest, kidneys and legs.” Her engagement ring and her bag had both been taken, Rita added.
On Thursday, Taliban security forces brought bodies of two more women also shot to pieces to the Balkh provincial hospital, said Meraj Faroqi, a doctor there. Their identities are currently unknown. They were found alongside the bodies of two men in a house in Mazar-i-Sharif, said Zabihullah Noorani, the Taliban’s director for information and cultural affairs in Balkh province, adding that the police were investigating the case. “It could be a personal feud,” he said.
The deaths underscore the pervasive sense of fear in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, where a spate of reprisal killings of people linked to the previous government has fostered an atmosphere of impunity and confusion.
Since mid-August, women have held regular, nationwide protests against the Taliban, demanding that their rights be restored and protected. Barely a day passes in Afghanistan without women’s rights further shrinking. Girls are de facto banned from secondary school, the new government is all-male and women have been barred from most sports and work. On Thursday Human Rights Watch said Taliban rules were prohibiting most women from operating as aid workers in the country, hastening the country’s pending humanitarian disaster.
Activists say they are being hunted down by the Taliban, who have perfected ways to infiltrate and intimidate women’s groups, including ensnaring them.
On Wednesday October 20, Frozan received a call from an anonymous number, asking her to bring all the proof of her work as an activist.
For Frozan who was waiting for approval to travel to Germany via a third country, this made sense. She stuffed some documents, including her university diploma, into a bag, threw a black and white scarf over her head and left home, according to her sister.
She was wary of pointing her finger at the Taliban. “We just don’t know who killed her,” Rita said. The sisters’ father, Abdul Rahman Safi, 66, said Frozan’s body had been found in a pit not far from the city, and was registered by hospital workers as unknown.
Protest organiser Zahra, who spoke to Rukhshana Media using only one name out of security concerns, said she was with Frozan at the most recent protest in Mazar-i-Sharif against Taliban rule. “My WhatsApp has been hacked. I wouldn’t dare go on social media now,” Zahra said.
The extremists have led a largely violent crackdown on dissent, beating women with electric batons and detaining and torturing reporters who cover the nationwide protests by women demanding their rights be restored and protected.
This story is published in partnership with the Guardian.
Zahra Joya contributed to the reporting.