Afghanistan: Intelligence agency must release human rights defenders who exposed paedophile ring

Afghanistan’s top intelligence agency must immediately release two human rights defenders it detained after they exposed alleged sexual abuse against children, Amnesty International said today.

Musa Mahmudi and Ehsanullah Hamidi, both well-known human rights defenders from Logar province, were arbitrarily detained by the National Directorate of Security (NDS) on 21 November 2019 when they were on their way to meet with the European Union ambassador in Kabul.

The two human rights defenders began receiving threats, including from local officials in Logar, on Facebook after they gave interviews to The Guardian and Afghanistan’s TOLO News about the existence of a paedophile ring in the area. The human rights defenders uncovered more than 100 videos of the alleged abuse. Some of the victims of abuse have been murdered, according to The Guardian.

“Afghanistan’s intelligence agency must immediately release these human rights defenders immediately. While in custody of the National Directorate for Security, they are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. Rather than punishing them for speaking out against these horrific crimes, the authorities should praise them for their work and hold the suspected perpetrators accountable through fair trials and without recourse to the death penalty,” said Samira Hamidi, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International.

Faced with threats from both the state and non-state actors, they are operating in some of the most hazardous conditions anywhere in the world. There is impunity for attacks on these brave defenders, who have little to no protection
Samira Hamidi

“This is the latest case where human rights defenders have been targeted by the authorities for carrying out their important work. Faced with threats from both the state and non-state actors, they are operating in some of the most hazardous conditions anywhere in the world. There is impunity for attacks on these brave defenders, who have little to no protection.”

One day before he disappeared, Musa Mahmudi told a fellow Afghan human rights defender that he feared for his safety and that the NDS was planning to arrest him. He added that he was worried that he was under surveillance. Musa Mahmudi said that he had also received death threats, accusing him of “dishonouring the people of Logar.”

In August 2019, Amnesty International published a briefing entitled, Defenceless Defenders: Attacks on Afghanistan’s Human Rights Community,” where the organization detailed how the Afghan government has persistently failed to investigate attacks on human rights defenders – sometimes accusing them of ‘fabricating’ their claims, declining to offer them protection; telling them to arm themselves instead.

“The persistent attacks on human rights defenders highlight the urgent need for the Afghan government to establish a protection mechanism. The international community also has an important role to play here. They have long paid tribute to the bravery of Afghan human rights defenders but failed to back up those words with action. They must now recognize their achievements, effectively support them, and press the Afghan government to respect, protect and support human rights defenders,” said Samira Hamidi.