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Two dozen Afghan refugees blindfolded, handcuffed and displayed in cages in Shiraz,Iran

The caging of Afghans has angered some Iranians and the Afghanistan's Ministry of Refugees and Returnees strongly condemns this inhumane treatment

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This photo released by the Iranian Students' News Agency shows 'foreign nationals' who were displayed alongside contraband items - including weapons - by police in Shiraz, Iran Image Source: VOA
  • Afghan refugees were displayed in a large metal cage
  • The refugees were among some 200 foreign nationals who entered Iran illegally and were arrested
  • The Afghan government is protesting Iran’s decision to blindfold several Afghans and put them in cages

September 11,2016: The Afghan government is protesting Iran’s decision to blindfold several Afghans and put them in cages in the center of Shiraz this week.

Nearly two dozen handcuffed Afghan refugees were displayed in a large metal cage. Police also exhibited confiscated items, including weapons, explosives, drugs, alcohol and smuggled soft drinks.

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The deputy police chief of Shiraz, Nasser Keshawarz, said the refugees were among some 200 foreign nationals who entered Iran illegally and were arrested. Pictures of the public detention went viral on the internet, drawing outrage from Afghans and human rights activists, and an official diplomatic protest from Kabul.

The Afghan government is protesting Iran’s decision to blindfold several Afghans and put them in cages. Image Source: VOA

The Afghan government is protesting Iran’s decision to blindfold several Afghans and put them in cages.

“Afghanistan’s Ministry of Refugees and Returnees strongly condemns this inhumane and humiliating treatment and violation of human dignity of Afghan refugees by the Shiraz city police,” the Afghan government said in a statement. “This behavior undoubtedly contradicts Human Rights, the 1951 [Refugee] Convention, and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and stands against the bilateral refugee agreements between the two countries.”

There was no response from Tehran or on official state-run media.

Criticism of Iran

Mohammad Reza Khoshak, an Afghan parliament member from western Herat province, which borders Iran, denounced the Iranian regime.

“In Shiraz, a city well-known for its poet Saadi, who asks for equality for all humans, my fellow citizens are put in cages and mistreated in a way similar to what militants of the Islamic State do to their prisoners,” he told an Afghan newspaper.

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Well-known Afghan poet Mustafa Hazara criticized Iran on his Facebook page. “How low a human could go?” he asked. “Look, my Iranian friends, if you travel outside your geographic location [country], you would realize that the value of humans is different than what you think of.”

‘Systematic prejudice’

Roughly 3 million Afghans live in Iran. Most of them settled there after fleeing war and conflict in their homeland, and many lack basic rights and live without a formal status. About 950,000 Afghans in Iran are classified as refugees.

Iran has sent thousands of Afghan refugees, mainly ethnic Shi’ite Hazaras, to Syria to fight alongside forces of Hezbollah and Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard forces in support of the Syrian government. Dozens of Afghans have died in the Syrian war.

In his online post, Hazara asked educated Iranians to fight what he termed a systematic prejudice by Iran against Afghan refugees.

In general, Afghans living in Iran try to keep a low profile so as to not anger the regime.

“They [Iranian authorities] are very tough on us, and even one of my colleagues got a threatening message to not talk with foreign media about the incident,” Afghan journalist Kazem Sharafuddin told VOA from Mashhad.

The caging of Afghans has angered some Iranians, as well. Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s spokesperson, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, condemned the move.

“We are ashamed before Afghan people, ashamed before humanity,” Ramezanzadeh said on his Instagram account. (VOA)

Next Story

Women In Afghanistan Fear Recurring Oppression If Taliban Becomes Part Of The Government

In Afghanistan the women are no more the women from 20 years back,” said the 28-year-old, who was in her first year of school when the Taliban took power

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Afghanistan, Women
Afghan women line up to cast their votes during a parliamentary election at a polling station in Kabul, Afghanistan, Oct. 21, 2018. VOA

Eighteen years ago, at the height of the Taliban’s power in Afghanistan, Roshan Mashal secretly taught her daughters to read and write alongside a dozen local girls who smuggled schoolbooks to her house in potato sacks.

Mashal’s daughters have since gained university degrees in economics and medicine. But she now fears the looming prospect that the hard-line Islamist group, whose rule barred women from education, could once again become part of the government.

“They say they have changed, but I have concerns,” she said in an interview in her office in Kabul. “There is no trust … we don’t want peace to come with women losing all the achievements of the last 17 years.”

Fears freedoms will be lost

As talks to end Afghanistan’s long war pick up momentum, women such as Mashal fear the freedoms eked out since U.S.-backed Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001 are about to slide backwards, and complain their voices are being sidelined.

Women, Afghanistan
Afghan first lady Rula Ghani stands backstage during the 2017 Asia Game Changer Awards and Gala Dinner in New York, Nov. 1, 2017. VOA

An aide to Rula Ghani, the wife of Afghanistan’s president, said the first lady had launched a survey of women in 34 provinces in a bid to amplify their voices in the peace process, with a report summarizing their views slated for February.

“The war was started by men, the war will be ended by men,” said the aide. “But it’s the women and children who suffer the most and they have a right to define peace.”

Women, children suffer

Almost two decades of war have implicated both sides in the suffering of women. The United Nations last year expressed alarm at the increased use of airstrikes by U.S. and Afghan forces, which caused a rising death toll among women and children.

Afghanistan is still not an easy place to be a woman, with forced marriages, domestic violence and high maternal mortality rates prevalent nationwide, and particularly in rural areas, according to gender equality advocates.

But access to public life has improved, especially in cities such as the capital Kabul, where many women work outside the home and more than a quarter of the parliament is female.

Afghanistan, women
Afghan women cheer during the final match of the Afghan football premier league in Kabul, Afghanistan, Oct. 18, 2012. VOA

But women lawmakers and some foreign diplomats fear enshrining gender equality may take a backseat in any peace deal to the intense international focus on ending fighting and eliminating the country’s potential as a haven for militants to launch attacks overseas.

“That is the threshold. The question is how much they will accept the position of women deteriorating in the process,” said a senior Western diplomat in Kabul whose country funds projects to empower women. “There may be some backsliding, but hopefully not all the way back.”

Between 1996 and 2001, under the Taliban government that called itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, women were banned from work, required to wear the full-length burqa that covered their faces, and not allowed to leave the house without a male relative.

The Taliban say they have changed, and that they would allow women to be educated, though they say schools should be segregated by gender and women required to wear loose clothing.

“We want Afghanistan to move forward with its present achievements and developments. But there are some reforms and changes the Emirate will struggle for,” spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told Reuters last month.

Afghanistan, Women
Afghan women’s rights activist Wazhma Frogh adjusts her scarf during an interview in her office in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 5, 2014. A gender and development specialist and human rights activist, Frogh says for Afghan women, the successes are fragile. VOA

Words not enough

That is not enough to assuage the fears of women such as Karima Rahimyaar. She is the main provider for her family after her first husband was shot and killed by the Taliban in Kunduz province in 1996 and her second was injured and left unable to work after being imprisoned by them around three year ago.

She regularly comforts her university-aged daughters, who feel sick when they hear gunshots or mention of the Taliban.

“It is very difficult for me,” she said.

Like many Afghans, she is desperate for peace and wants an end to the near-daily attacks across the country, which claimed the life of her 32-year-old son, a police officer, in 2016.

But not, she says, at the expense of women’s rights.

“If there are no agreements and commitments, women will be inside the home and they will be deprived of everything,” she said.

Afghanistan, Women
Afghan women army cadets shoot a target during practice at the Officers Training Academy as part of the Indian military training program for women Afghan army cadets, in Chennai, India, Dec. 19, 2018. VOA

Wazhma Frogh, a member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, tasked with negotiating with the Taliban, said that she and the 11 other female members of the group had to fight to have their perspective heard.

“To get access is difficult,” she said, saying that at times women had to raise their voices in meetings to avoid being ignored and that gatherings were sometimes held late at night in venues women did not feel comfortable traveling to.

Though the Taliban is refusing to include the Afghan government in formal talks, Frogh and other members have informally met with the insurgent group and with U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

Afghan society has changed

Meanwhile young women such as Zuhal Babakarkhil, one of the fast-growing segment of the population who have reached adulthood since the fall of the Taliban, say Afghan society has changed.

“In Afghanistan the women are no more the women from 20 years back,” said the 28-year-old, who was in her first year of school when the Taliban took power and whose family fled overseas.

Also Read: As U.S. Intensifies Efforts To Make Peace With Afghanistan, Taliban Attacks Military Base

She now lives in Kabul, plays cricket and promotes higher education among girls. She says that social media such as Whatsapp and Facebook gives women access to organizing networks at home and abroad that would be tough to curtail.

She said she has no intention to leave Afghanistan, despite her worries about the Taliban returning.

“We did it before … but certainly this is not the way, to escape anymore,” she said. “We are not leaving our home country. We will definitely stand up for our rights.” (VOA)