For the hundreds, if not thousands, of LGBT+ Afghans who remain trapped in Kabul, life in their home country was already imbued with a sense of impending danger.
Even with the influence of more tolerant western values at the height of its occupation, most of Afghanistan’s LGBT+ community have been forced to keep their gender identity and sexual orientation secret amid fears of intimidation at a social and even institutional level.
However, the arrival of the Taliban has ushered in a new form of brutality. With reports of summary executions, beatings and even rumours of militants duping gay men into meeting them with promises of safe refuge – many LGBT+ Afghans have fled the area, leaving their former lives behind.
Since the fall of Kabul in August and with extremists carrying out door-to-door searches to locate those they consider enemies of the ‘Islamic emirate’, many have been forced to change their location. From hiding in ditches to running throughout the night, the fear of murder is palpable, driving them to avoid detection by any means.
This fear was heightened even further in July after a senior Taliban judged confirmed in an interview that gay men will face the death penalty either by stoning, or by having a wall toppled on them, if they are found to have gay sex.
‘The LGBT community is sitting on a knife edge,’ explains Nemat Sadat, an Afghan-born LGBT+ activist now living in the US and organising an evacuation of over 500 Afghans stuck in Kabul.
‘The Taliban are going to have no mercy on LGBT people when they fully implement Sharia law and this scares the daylights out of the community. It’s not hyperbolic to say that the Taliban will do to LGBT people exactly what the Nazis did: weed out homosexuals and exterminate them.
‘My reoccurring struggle everyday is trying to figure out how to evacuate LGBTQ Afghans faster than the Taliban can torture them to death,’ Nemat goes on. ‘There are days I go numb in pain when I find out someone from my list has been beaten, found dead, gone missing, or tried to take their life. I knew these people. They are not statistics. They are people who upheld democracy and not too long ago had big dreams for the future.’
To give an insight into the sheer turmoil facing those on the ground, Metro.co.uk spoke to five LGBT+ Afghans, whose names have been changed to protect their identity, about their experiences of being hunted by one of the most deadly terrorist groups.
Tragically, their darkest fears have already caught up with one of them – Fahmi, a transgender journalist.
Fahmi had agreed to talk with us about his situation before all contact was lost. Despite numerous attempts to reach him, we discovered later that, having been severely beaten and stabbed by a group of Taliban soldiers, he had been kidnapped while at hospital seeking treatment. Whether he has survived his capture remains unknown.
‘I think I am losing everything… I don’t have any hope’
As both a woman and a lesbian, Rabia not only faces the threat of being targeted because of her sexuality, but also has been banned from attending university. Forced to remain indoors for fear of being located, she worries that she will never be able to pursue her dreams.
‘Before Taliban, as lesbians we didn’t have any rights because of Islamic culture. But at least we had the right to study and go to work. Now we don’t. Although this is the situation for “normal” people, for LGBT people it’s even more difficult because we have fear. We don’t feel safe because if the Taliban find out we are LGBT, they will kill us. They think we are waste humans in society, that we are against Islamic culture and they don’t accept us.
I get stressed and depressed – I don’t feel normal because it’s about one month since I tried to escape, that I tried to run away. I attempted four times to reach the airport but the Taliban didn’t allow me. I told them I had papers to enter the airport and tried to talk with them, but they just showed me their guns and said, “If you come here we will kill you”.
I have to stay at home, but I can’t stay with my family because if Taliban find me they will arrest me. I’m so nervous and fear for my family because I don’t want anybody to get hurt because of me. The Taliban just came to our neighbour’s house searching for a boy, but I feel that they are searching for me. I’m scared to leave the house and have to wear a Chadari, I have to keep myself a secret. I’m sure I can’t leave because my name is on their list and if today, tomorrow or next week, or next month, they will find me.
They will do anything they want and I don’t know if I can express in words about my fear because I know if they arrest me, they will kill me. It’s really hard to hide your identity, to hide yourself. Even before the Taliban I did not have the right to be who I am. Now I can’t do anything.
It really hurts me. I feel trapped. I can’t go through the airport because they don’t allow it. I just have one option – to go via land and I’m waiting for a safer way to escape with other LGBT people. I’ve lost my dreams, my achievements that I had in my life. Now I think I am losing everything… I don’t have any hope.’
*Since she spoke to us, Rabia’s fears of being discovered have deepened. Her house has been destroyed by Taliban militants who had used it to take cover while fighting against members of Islamic State. With her cousin seriously injured, she had no choice but to flee again, this time to her aunt’s house.
‘It’s like hell for us‘
For university student Ahmadullah, his ordeal began the same day the Taliban entered Kabul. Informed by his friends that his boyfriend had been dragged from his home and beheaded by militants in the street, he was forced to flee with nothing more than his university bag. Grief stricken, and going days without food and sleep, he has been on the run ever since, unable to return home.
‘That day we were having breakfast at a restaurant when we heard about the Taliban. I told my boyfriend, “Get up, let’s go home”. Then I told him: “My love, whenever you reach home give me a call”.
Many hours passed and I didn’t get his call. I kept trying his phone but everything was off. Eventually, one of my classmates called me and said, “They have killed your boyfriend. First they took him out of his house, beat him and beheaded him. They said: “This is what we do to LGBT”.”
When I heard, my body froze and mind stopped working, I thought it was some kind of dream. I was so shocked that I couldn’t move an inch.
My mom pushed me, shouting “What happened?”, I just said, “Mom I have to run”.
I had my uni bag with me – I grabbed it and ran. I didn’t know where I was going, I just kept running towards the mountains. That night I reached a village. There was a house, with an old man in it, who asked what I was doing – he said didn’t I know there was a war going on?
I told him that the Taliban killed my father and he told me to get inside. I stayed at his house for a few days.
The next day I heard voices outside, I knew it was Talibs. I grabbed my bag and tried to run, but when I was about to leave there was a Talib in front of me. He took me to his leader. When I tried to free myself he attacked me with a knife, but somehow I managed to get free and started running. I didn’t look back.
Although wounded, I ran towards the airport and waited in dirty water for three days without eating or sleeping.
I keep changing locations, I used to walk at night and find abandoned houses to sleep in and find food. Sometimes, when I try to change location, I pretend to be homeless or straight. I can’t even tell Afghan people that I’m gay. I have been alone since the day the Taliban entered Kabul. It’s like hell for us – I can’t sleep, I have to stay awake.
Whenever I try to sleep, my loved ones who are dead always come into my mind. Every day I have to fight for life – I can’t trust anyone and have to lie to locals to survive.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to me because the whole world left us alone to die. The Taliban know everything about me – my name, my face, my phone number. I’ve received many unknown calls that I haven’t picked up. If they catch me, they will kill me on the spot. I know they will find me soon, because I don’t have any places to hide or run. I can’t keep running forever.’
*Ahmadullah’s future remains bleak. After being attacked with a knife by a group of militants who had managed to identify him, he managed to flee Kabul – however his escape is marred with sorrow. Not only is he trying to come to terms with his boyfriend’s death, he’s dealing with the trauma of his escape. ’Sometimes I can’t even talk properly,’ he admits. ‘I forget things and whenever there’s a knife or sharp object, it’s like I’m living in hell.’
‘The Taliban went to four of my friends’ homes and killed them’
Forced to flee Kabul after discovering that four of his friends had been executed by Taliban militants, Sultan faced a terrifying choice: surrender, or risk his family being kidnapped. Unable to remain in his home, he had no choice but to hide in the mountains for almost a month. Fearing for his life and narrowly avoiding capture, he travelled for over six hours before finding safety.
‘When the Taliban took over our province, we thought we would stay at home because they were saying they had changed and were not like the “previous” Taliban. But on the first day, I found out they killed my two friends who were LGBT. When I heard that news, I was so shocked.
A few days later we had Afghanistan Independence Day and came out in the street to celebrate, holding our national flag. By the end of the day, I heard the Taliban had gone to four of my friends’ homes and killed them too.
My father called to tell me and it was so horrible. I said to my partner that we must leave – I told him to take his passport and some money with him, and go.
We booked a taxi and went to the mountain area in one of my relative’s houses. We were hiding there for about 25 days, but there were huge problems – my partner and I were suffering from depression, anxiety and financial problems. We couldn’t do normal things because we were so scared of the Taliban. I was shaving my beard and moustache and I changed my hairstyle. I protected my accounts, changed my pictures and changed my mobile locations.
After a few days the Taliban called me and warned me that they would kill me if they found me. They said that if I surrendered, they would spare me – but I knew they were lying.
While we were hiding out in the mountains, there was a knock on the door one morning. I knew it was the Taliban, so told my partner we needed to escape. We jumped from the house roof and they started firing at us. It was really heavy machine gun fire and my partner was shot.
As he was still able to run I suggested we go in different directions, as I felt we were less likely to be captured if we split up.
Eventually, I found a house and told the lady who lived there that some Talibs were after me and wanted to kill me. Thankfully, she helped me and hid me in an old bathroom.
However, after a few minutes, she said I must leave because if the Taliban found me in her house, her life would also be in danger.
I managed to call my friend who had a car and ask him for help. We drove in the mountains for six hours.
We were just waiting for our death. A single step of laziness could have killed us.
We just feel like we are not human, like we’ve escaped from prison. We have no kind of freedom. We are already targeted – if they found us, everything would end.’
*Sultan and his partner were eventually reunited and after weeks spent hiding, they managed to secure seats on an evacuation flight out of Afghanistan. Currently in a safe house in a neighbouring country, they are now waiting to be transferred to Europe where he and his partner hope to rebuild their lives.
‘I think about how to escape every night’
As a hairdresser working with some of Afghanistan’s most famous celebrities, it’s not only Ismailzada’s life that’s under threat, but his livelihood too. Fearful that the Taliban will discover his work as a makeup artist, he has been forced into hiding. Holed up in his home for two months, his future and career prospects are in jeopardy.
‘Beside my dream job as a hairdresser and makeup artist, I studied teacher training. But that was all before the Taliban took over. Now my life is horrifying, I am just hiding at home with nowhere to go and no future to see for my job.
Before the takeover, I found my job as a makeup artist for women difficult, but possible after a lot of hard work. But since they’ve taken over I just find it impossible to work as a hairdresser for women in a situation like this.
First of all, I have no more customers as they are all scared because it’s seen as taboo going to salons now, especially to a makeup artist who is male.
If they find out I used to work in a job like that, the Taliban might kill me, as they want everyone to obey their roles – but I do not want to be like them.
Mentally and physically, I don’t feel the same as I used to. The Taliban are everywhere and I cannot go out for fear – if I see them, my whole body will tremble. All I think now is “when is this nightmare going to end?”
Although this is just the start, I know there is no way for me as a person to fight against them and to do my work is just impossible.
It has been weeks since I’ve got out of the house – I’ve been staying like a prisoner in my own home with nowhere to go and nothing to do. It’s like living my life with a body and no soul.
After they took over the town where I live, I definitely knew that I couldn’t be myself and that I had to hide my sexuality. I don’t feel safe at all – I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. I feel like I’m losing everything. I think about how to escape from here every night, but I’m not sure if I can escape them.’
*Ismailzada is still trapped in Kabul and is still yet to receive any support
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]
Share your views in the comments below.
Source: Read Full Article