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When Afghan Police Start Using Taliban-Style Harassment

Rights groups say that cops in Herat are cracking down on "adulterers," stopping couples on the street,even brothers and sisters, and demanding proof of marriage.

Police officer in Herat, Afghanistan
Police officer in Herat, Afghanistan
Ghayor Waziri

HERAT — A few days ago, Soodabah, 25, was shopping with her fiancé in Herat when she was suddenly stopped by a group of police officers.

They asked them who they were and how they were related. "We told them that we're engaged. They asked to see proof. They demanded that we show our ID cards and they called our family to check we were engaged," she recalls. "Eventually they let us go. But this kind of situation and behavior is against our social rights. Now relatives can't even take a walk together!"

Other couples haven't been let go. Last year, hundreds of couples were stopped on the streets, arrested and charged with adultery. Abdul Qadir Rahimi, from the local branch of Afghanistan's independent human rights commission, says they are getting many complaints.

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Walking in Herat — Photo: Marius Arnesen

"We have reports about police arresting adults while they were shopping or walking with family members of the opposite sex," Rahimi says. "We believe this is against human rights and Afghanistan law. We are concerned about police authorities abusing their power."

Media conspiracy?

Accordig to local media, officers sometimes demand bribes from couples who don't want their parents to find out they were together. Abdul Raouf Ahmadi, spokesman for the Herat Police Chief, says that those who break the law will be punished.

"Maybe in the past some of our police officers have misused their authority for their own benefit. I admit that — but now we are closely watching it," Ahmadi says. "This is more a conspiracy by some media groups against the police."

But many young people I spoke with on the streets of Herat say they are worried they may become potential targets for arbitrary police actions. They say the situation reminds them of when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan and women were forbidden to leave home unless accompanied by a male family member.

Bi Bi Somaya, a 22-year-old university student, was stopped on the street as she was walking with her brother. "We told the police officer we were siblings, but he told us: "How can I know you're telling the truth?" This is the kind of behavior that makes people turn against the police," she says.

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