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27 Jan 2022

As expected, it's been confirmed that LGBTQ people in Afghanistan are now at higher risk of harm

The report from Human Rights Watch highlights that - as predicted - the return of the Taliban is bad news for the country's LGBTQ community.


Human Rights Watch reports cases of mob attacks, gang-rape and death threats, with LGBTQ+ people living in fear and unable to flee
Rights and freedom is supported by
Humanity United
About this content
Ruchi Kumar
Wed 26 Jan 2022 06.30 GMT
The lives of LGBTQ+ people in Afghanistan have “dramatically worsened” under Taliban rule, according to a new survey, which highlights cases of violence, gang-rape and death threats since the group seized power last year.
The report, by Human Rights Watch (HRW), recorded nearly 60 cases of targeted violence against LGBTQ+ people since August 2021, many of whom described how Taliban rule has destroyed their lives.
“Things were always rough,” said Heather Barr, associate director of the women’s rights division at HRW. “But people had found ways to survive and build community and support each other, and they had hope that things were gradually improving. On 15 August, all of that ended.”
Homosexuality was banned under Ashraf Ghani, the ousted president of Afghanistan, and punishable with prison. However, the HRW report said that the Taliban “vowed to take a hard line against the rights of LGBT people” and cited sharia law.
“We spoke with LGBT Afghans who have survived gang-rape, mob attacks, or have been hunted by their own family members who joined the Taliban, and they have no hope that state institutions will protect them,” said J Lester Feder, senior fellow for emergency research at OutRight Action International, who contributed to the report. “For those LGBT people who want to flee the country, there are few good options; most of Afghanistan’s neighbours also criminalise same-sex relations. It is difficult to overstate how devastating – and terrifying – the return of Taliban rule has been for LGBT Afghans.”
Zeba Gul*, 16, described to the Guardian how her life had worsened in the last few months. “I like to wear makeup, I like dresses, and I love to dance. But my family didn’t allow all that,” the teenager told the Guardian. “They would lock me up with chains and beat me. They would shave my head, tear my clothes and swear at me, calling me ezaak [a derogatory term for homosexuals].”
Gul described the horrors of growing up as a transperson in a deeply conservative country like Afghanistan.
The Rahmati family living in slum conditions in Herat, Afghanistan.
‘I’ve already sold my daughters; now, my kidney’: winter in Afghanistan’s slums
Read more
Before the Taliban came to her town in western Afghanistan, she was tormented as an object of shame by her family, but after 15 August, the risk to her life became grave. “After the Taliban came to power, my family threw me out of the house. It is the peak of winter and I sleep in the parks. I have been attacked. I have been raped. The Taliban held me for three days and beat me,” she said. “I have no one [to care for me].”
Faraydoon Fakoori, at Paiwand 34, an organisation working to help gender minorities in Afghanistan, said: “Afghanistan has always been a conservative society, but after the arrival of the Taliban, the situation has worsened. We are seeing many cases of violence, harassment and even rape.”
Gul said: “The return of the Taliban empowered vigilantes, homophobes, and a lot of people nurturing long-term feuds. On 14 August, your ex-wife’s angry brothers, your spurned ex, your prejudiced neighbour or uncle might have felt like they wished they could harm you, but it wasn’t worth going to prison for. On 16 August, it was open season, with no fear of punishment.”
In 2021, a Taliban spokesperson told Germany’s Bild newspaper: “For homosexuals, there can only be two punishments: either stoning, or he must stand behind a wall that will fall down on him.”


In a surprise to no one, we've now got confirmation that LGBTQ people in Afghanistan are more at risk of harm since the Taliban resumed control of the country.

A report by Human Rights Watch details how the lives of LGBTQ people in Afghamistan have "dramatically worsened" since the collapse of the Afghan government - that was supported by US troops - and the return to power of the Taliban.

The report highlights instances of violence, gang-rape, and death threats as examples of the harm that LGBTQ people are being subjected to.

While remaining in Afghanistan is clearly unsafe for LGBTQ people, trying to flee the country to seek asylum elsewhere is almost impossible. 

The report by Human Rights Watch details how the return to power by the Taliban in Afghanistan has empowered vigilantes and homophobes.

What’s life like for LGBTQ people in Afghanistan?

Is homosexuality legal in Afghanistan?

No. It was illegal under the Penal Code of the previous government. It is also illegal under the Sharia law applied by the Taliban.

Homosexuality is seen as a taboo subject, and something that goes against the Islamic religion which is the official religion of Afghanistan.

Anyone accused of being homosexual is at risk of being killed.

Is there any legal recognition of same-sex relationships in Afghanistan?

Unsurprisingly, there is no legal recognition of same-sex relationships in Afghanistan.

Are there any discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in Afghanistan?

Because of the criminalisation of homosexuality, and the socially-conservative nature of Afghan society, there are no protections available to people on the basis of sexuality.

The contradiction of prostitution

While homosexuality is taboo, there is a history of younger men being used as prostitutes – or dancing boys – to satisfy the sexual needs of older men. The boys are trained to dance seductively at men-only parties.

This is seen as a Persian custom, known as Bacha Bazi – boy play. It’s partly driven by the strict social rules surrounding interaction between men and women.

Despite Bacha Bazi being illegal under Afghan law, authorities are unable to end the practice because many of those involved are influential men. To these men, keeping a bacha baireesh – a boy without beard – is a sign of power and high social status.

In the 1990s, bacha bazi was outlawed by the Taliban, with sodomy, dancing and music carrying the death penalty – although the militant group have been accused of participating in the practice themselves.

The Boy Who Danced on Air

Created in 2017 by Charlie Sohne and Tim Rosser, The Boy Who Danced on Air is a musical that explores the world of the dancing boys of Afghanistan.

The musical is a love story between a 16-year-old boy, Paiman, and another young boy caught in the same bacha bazi practice.

It’s been criticised for glorifying the Bacha Bazi practice and distorting the experience of queer people in Afghanistan.

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