Afghanistan’s Taliban pledge growing role for morality police

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The Taliban government’s morality police will play an increasing role in enforcing religious law in Afghanistan, according to a UN report published Tuesday that accused them of creating a “climate of fear”.

The report from the UN assistance mission in Afghanistan said the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice “had negative impacts on the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms... with a discriminatory and disproportionate impact on women”.

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But the report also carried a response from Taliban authorities, who said the vice ministry had a bigger role to play.

The ministry implements an austere vision of Islam, which has increasingly dominated Afghanistan since the 2021 Taliban takeover.

Morality police squads are empowered to scold, arrest and deliver punishments to citizens violating edicts which have marginalized women, effectively banned music and outlawed other activity deemed un-Islamic.

The UN report said there was a “a climate of fear and intimidation” owing to the ministry’s invasion of Afghans’ private lives, ambiguity over its legal powers, and the “disproportionality of punishments”.

However, in their written response Taliban authorities said the vice ministry is “dedicated to promoting benefits and averting harm in all spheres of peoples’ lives”.

“Its official documents, as previously stated, draw from Sharia and Islamic law, and as a result, its role is growing as required by the situation.”

The UN report documents the work of the vice ministry between the Taliban’s return to power three years ago and March of this year.

It said the Taliban government had overseen a ban on women travelling without male escorts, enforced a conserva-tive dress code on them, barred them from public parks and shut women-run businesses.

It also introduced “measures to reduce intermingling between men and women in daily life” -- while instructing barbers to refuse “Western style” haircuts for men and arresting people playing music.

In their response, the Taliban government defended their decision to enforce male escorts for women, saying they are “to safeguard her honor and chastity” while Islamic dress was “a divine obligation”.

The vice ministry denied banning women from public places and said it only intervened in mixed-gender environ-ments.

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