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In Focus: LGBT Afghans speak out about life after the Taliban takeover

The panic-fuelled chaos that came to define last August’s invasion of Afghanistan may have subsided, but for the LGBT+ people still trapped and facing displacement, the trauma will remain forever ingrained in a psyche already scarred by war. 

It’s been nearly seven months since the Taliban’s violent takeover of Kabul, but still its effects continue to be felt. With growing reports of kidnap, beatings and executions — an already oppressed LGBT+ community has been forced to take desperate measures to avoid detection. 

Shortly after the Taliban’s sudden sweep to power, Metro.co.uk heard from five victims, all of whom were struggling to adjust to life under a group actively persecuting those within the LGBT+ community. 

Hiding their sexuality in a bid to evade capture, and fearing for their lives – Rabia, Ahmadullah, Sultan and Ismailzada spoke of the daily terrors they endured. From taking refuge in ditches to fleeing brutal ambushes, all five spent months desperately trying to escape knowing their lives were on the line. 

Tragically, as previously reported, their darkest fears had caught up with one of them, demonstrating the sheer terror sexual minorities still trapped in Afghanistan are forced to endure on a daily basis.

Fahim, a transgender journalist, was kidnapped by Taliban militants while at a hospital seeking treatment for a severe stab wound. After losing all contact, we feared the worst. We have since learnt he managed to evade his captors, but still the trauma haunts him. 

‘LGBT+ Afghans fear being butchered by the Taliban. They suffer extreme stress and anxiety. Some are on the verge of mental breakdown and have been driven to suicidal thoughts,’ explains Peter Tatchell, the prominent LGBTQ+ activist and human rights campaigner. 

‘We have heard reports of known or suspected LGBT+ Afghanis being hunted down, beaten, raped and murdered by Taliban gangs. In addition, as in the past before the Taliban took over, LGBTs are also at risk of so-called honour killing by their families and communities.

‘The UK Government has not delivered on its pledge to provide a safe haven for LGBT+ Afghans,’ adds Tatchell. ‘So far, Britain has accepted a derisory 62 Afghan LGBT+ refugees, when there is a waiting list of more than 1,000 who are at risk of torture, rape and murder by the Taliban. 

According to LGBT+ rights activist Nemat Sadat, ‘Famine is setting in and more LGBT+ people are getting tortured.’ (Picture: Abdulrashid Qayumi/ATPImages/Getty images)

‘What is required is the commitment of western governments to each take a share of vulnerable, at-risk LGBT+ Afghanis. But this is not happening.’

Afghan-born LGBT+ rights activist Nemat Sadat, has been desperately organising evacuations for more than 1,000 people still trapped in Afghanistan. He says the situation has worsened, with many LGBT+ Afghans running out of options. 

‘They are running out of places to hide,’ he tells Metro.co.uk. ‘Many are internally displaced. They are out of money and have few places to go to. A lot of their friends and relatives have also escaped or are planning to leave.

‘Famine is setting in and more LGBT+ people are getting tortured. Within two years’ time, most LGBT+ people will perish. This is a hidden genocide and an endangered community that risks losing all of its members.’ 

Nemat Sadat says that the treatment of LGBT+ people in Afghanistan is ‘a hidden genocide’ (Picture: HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images)

To chart their journeys since we last spoke soon after the invasion of Kabul, Metro.co.uk interviewed the same LGBT+ Afghans – whose names have been changed to protect their identity – to find out how life has changed for them under the Taliban’s brutal regime. 

‘I’m in a different country, but I still have to pretend I’m heterosexual’

Rabia, 22

Having managed to flee Afghanistan, Rabia now finds herself in Pakistan residing with other families in a LGBT-friendly safe house. Relieved to have escaped from the imminent dangers posed by the Taliban, she is determined to rebuild her life. However, she is still forced to hide her sexuality, and with family members still trapped in Kabul, her ordeal is far from over. 

‘We were in touch with Nemat Sadat who gathered around 20 LGBT+ people to take across the border. I was with a lesbian and a gay man. We were faced with lots of problems because we didn’t have a husband and we were stopped a number of times by the Taliban asking us about this, so we had to introduce the gay man as our husband. 

Being stopped by the Taliban was the worst feeling I’ve ever felt in my life. It was really scary because they told the driver to park so they could ask us who we were and where we were going. Everything was with me: my laptop and my documents. I was scared that if they searched and found anything they would for sure arrest and then kill me.

Rabia is living in a safe house in Peshwar (Picture: Supplied)

Fortunately, we were able to enter Pakistan and get our entrance stamps and we were in Peshawar for a month with other Afghan families, but even then the situation was not good. We know there’s no Taliban here, but it was the same: we couldn’t go out because Peshawar is near Afghanistan and the people, culture and attitudes are very similar.

Finally we came to Islamabad, but it’s not for lesbians or gay people – we don’t have any rights here. Still I have to pretend like I’m a heterosexual person and I can’t move freely because my visa has expired. If I apply to get another I would have to go back to Afghanistan, which is something I don’t want to do. 

I feel better and safer here [in the LGBT safe house] because I can be who I am within our community, but I still feel tension surrounding my future. 

My life remains in danger because people in Pakistan are closed-minded. I still try to hide. I can’t tell anyone about my identity because if they find out, they will attack me. 

My family is still trapped in Afghanistan because they didn’t have passports or money. I feel worried for them. I talk with them to see if they can get to Pakistan or go to Iran because they are still in danger even without the issue of my sexuality. Once I get to another country, I will try to help them escape. 

I feel scared, but on the other hand I feel stronger because I want to try my best to fight for my life and my identity. I want to get my rights one day and also reach another safe country and live as I am with my identity.’

‘I had to flee after they beheaded my boyfriend’

Ahmadullah, 27

For Ahmadullah, whose boyfriend was brutally murdered by Taliban militants, life will never be the same again. Having managed to escape Kabul on a chartered flight, he now finds himself trapped in a refugee camp in the United Arab Emirates. Tormented by his ordeal, and desperate to pursue his dream of working in the technology industry, he vows never to return to Afghanistan.   

‘When the Taliban were capturing other provinces we were so worried. We knew what would happen if the Taliban took over Kabul – I was so scared and crying. I was already living in hell, and if the Taliban took over the country I knew they would start killing us. I couldn’t do anything because I was just a student, and I couldn’t leave the country. 

Ever since I knew I was gay I had to act as though I was straight. The government hated us, the locals hate us – so I had to hide my true self. It was like living life in a prison cell.

I was almost captured by the Taliban when they entered Kabul city. I was with my boyfriend at a café for breakfast – we always used to go there and it was an exam day. When we heard about the Taliban, I told him to go home and contact me when he got there. I was waiting for his call for many hours, but he didn’t call me. 

One of our classmates called me and told me: “They have killed your best friend. First they took him out of his home, beat him and beheaded him.” I was in shock and didn’t know what to do – I just grabbed my bag and ran. 

Whenever I think about those days, I start crying – I still can’t sleep at night. I always have nightmares about the Taliban.

Ahmadullah says his boyfriend was tortured and killed by the Taliban (Picture: by JAVED TANVEER/AFP via Getty Images)

I was in Mazar-i-Sharif when I was contacted by Nemat Sadat and told my name was on a charter flight at Kabul Airport. It was 10 hours away, so I had to keep changing vehicles to avoid Taliban checkpoints. After three days, I reached Kabul. I tried to look like an old man to avoid detection – I had to shave my head and dress almost like a Taliban to enter the airport.  

Life is the same here in the UAE. I’m in a refugee camp with almost 2,500 Afghan refugees. If the government finds out you are LGBT they will imprison you and send you back to Afghanistan. I’m still acting straight and having to hide my true self here. 

A month ago, police arrested two boys from the camp. They were in prison for a few days and then sent back to Afghanistan even though they knew what the Taliban would do to them. 

I’m glad I’m away from the Taliban, but I’m still at high risk. If they find out about me here, they will send me back. The Taliban have a list of LGBT people and I’m near the top because I beat one of the Talibs who tried to stab me. 

I will never go back to Afghanistan if the Taliban rules. I promised my boyfriend that I will go to a foreign country, study hard and work for a tech company, because this was our dream.’

‘I tried to escape, but then they beat me’

Fahim, 28

Captured by Taliban militants and detained for almost three months, Fahim thought he would never see his family again. Subjected to frequent interrogations and beatings, his nose was broken in three places and left untreated. Thankfully, despite his injuries, he was able to flee, travelling almost eight hours to escape his captors. 

‘For nine days I would look out of the windows, but I didn’t see any Talibs go by – so I thought it would be safe to go to the Gulbahar Centre. When I approached I saw different groups of Taliban in different locations. I tried to avoid them but was stopped and questioned by one group of about 14 members. 

They were questioning me much more aggressively. I had a tattoo of hearts and stars on my neck. They asked why I had this tattoo, which is a sign of the gay and transgender community, and asked why my body was well-built and told me it must be a sign that I worked with the Americans. 

I was becoming scared. I tried to escape, but they beat me. They punched me in the nose and it was broken. One of the men had a small knife and he cut my right hand and also broke two of my fingers. Because of the beating, I fell unconscious. I woke up in a hospital they had taken me to and someone sewed up the wound on my hand. After this, I was put into a car and transported to Baghlan Province.

I was detained by the Taliban in a large house. As far as I am aware, there were no other people kept there. It was just me and many Taliban members. 

Fahim was captured and beaten, but managed to flee (Picture: Supplied)

For the first three weeks of my detention, I was frequently interrogated about my work, my source of income, whether I work with foreigners, whether foreigners put the tattoo on me, who my friends are, and more. I would be beaten during these interrogations. After the first three weeks, this treatment continued, just not as often.  

In the early hours of the morning in November, I found an opportunity to escape. The Taliban men would work in groups, with some in the building while others went out to do routine checks. That night, the group that remained in the building forgot to lock my door before they fell asleep. I seized the opportunity and walked for about two hours before a taxi passed me by on the road. I didn’t have a cell phone or any money – so I told him that if he took me to my family’s home in Kabul he would be paid. 

He agreed. It was an eight-hour drive. We arrived at my family’s home around the early afternoon. My entire family was home and they were so happy to see me because they all thought I was already dead.

My family and I discussed my options and we knew I had to flee the country as soon as possible. My brother Bilal also had a valid visa – so my family decided he should drive me across the border as it would help ensure a safer crossing. My brother drove me to Peshawar and I am now in Islamabad.’

I feel like I’m in a cage without a door’

Ismailzada, 23

Forced to close down his hair salon amid the Taliban’s invasion of Kabul, Ismailzada still remains trapped in Kabul. Fearing he could be captured, he remains indoors, rarely venturing outside unless it is for essential items.  

‘Thinking about being trapped here hurts, and knowing that I am unable to escape takes my breath away. No one is allowed to leave the country without a good reason. I haven’t been outside since the Taliban took over. Luckily I live with my family – so my brothers go out shopping for groceries. There is nothing to do out here: no school, no work, no nightlife. 

Hairdresser Ismailzada has remained in Kabul but rarely ventures outside (Picture: Supplied)

Hiding my sexuality has been extremely difficult. I don’t see anyone outside the house nowadays. I don’t know how long it will last, but I think the only thing I can do to help myself is to try and escape from here.

I can’t find the words to describe how scared I am about getting caught by the Taliban. I’ve already felt the impact of the Taliban taking over – whenever someone knocks on the door I get panicked. 

If they take me, the only thing that comes to my mind is that they will shoot me. They won’t accept me as a person and I can’t change myself.

I really don’t know how to explain with words the impacts on my mental health. Here in Afghanistan, no one talks about mental health, and I come from a background where no one takes it seriously. 

The Taliban say they will not harm anyone and that they won’t kill innocents anymore, but it’s not true. They haven’t changed at all. Everyone in Afghanistan has been forgotten – I don’t see any chance of being rescued.’ 

*Unfortunately, Sultan was not able to speak with us for this story due to the illness of his brother. After making contact, we discovered that he still remains in a safe house with his partner and is hoping to be able to travel to Europe to restart his life. 

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing Claie.Wilson@metro.co.uk 

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In Focus: LGBT Afghans speak out about life after the Taliban takeover Source link In Focus: LGBT Afghans speak out about life after the Taliban takeover

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