The Taliban authorities must urgently investigate the abduction of Alia Azizi, a senior female prison official who has been missing for more than three months after she reported for duty in Herat, and immediately and unconditionally release her if in their custody, Amnesty international said.
Alia Azizi, a member of the ethnic Hazara community and the Head of Herat Women’s Prison, never returned home after going to work on 2 October 2021. Despite several pleas by her family to the Taliban to investigate the case, a veil of secrecy still shrouds her disappearance.
“It’s been more than three months since Alia Azizi disappeared and her family still remains completely in the dark about her whereabouts. Her apparent abduction takes place within the context of the Taliban illegally detaining members of the former government, journalists, and assorted critics across the country,” said Zaman Sultani, Amnesty International’s South Asia Researcher.
At the Taliban’s request, Alia Azizi returned to her job on 24 August 2021, just nine days after the collapse of the Afghan Government, her brother Mohammad Nazir Arefi told Amnesty International. She was earlier given an amnesty letter, guaranteeing her safety, by the Taliban on 12 August 2021, the day the group took over Herat province.
According to Mohammad Nazir Arefi, the family`s continued pleas to the Taliban authorities in Herat have failed to get the group to initiate an investigation into her disappearance. The only information they have received in response is that she is not with the Taliban. Since Alia Azizi’s disappearance, her telephone has been disconnected and, according to Arefi, when the family tracked her phone conversations through the service provider, Alia’s last communication was with the Taliban’s Head of Herat Prison.
“As the de facto authorities, the Taliban must take immediate steps to conduct a thorough, impartial and independent investigation into this and other cases of enforced disappearance, provide answers to the families whose loved ones are missing, and hold those within its ranks accountable across the country for committing crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations,” said Zaman Sultani.
On 16 January 2022, the Taliban tried to silence women’s protests in Kabul calling for the Taliban to release Alia Azizi. In dispersing the women protesters, the Taliban used electric devices to shock women protesters and used chemical substances such as pepper spray that caused the protestors severe skin and eye irritation, according to Human Rights Watch. In September, the Taliban’s Ministry of Interior issued an order banning all demonstrations and gatherings “until a policy of demonstration is codified”.
“It is quite evident that the promises made by the Taliban, particularly to Afghan women and girls are being broken, and there is complete disregard for their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law. The Taliban must immediately end the use of unlawful force against those exercising their right to peaceful assembly.” said Zaman Sultani.
Amnesty International contacted the Taliban for comment on 19 January; despite them initially promising to investigate the cases with their relevant authorities and get back to Amnesty, they have not provided an answer to Amnesty regarding the case at the time of publication. Amnesty International plans to publish the Taliban`s response if it receives a response to its query.
Alia Azizi is among the few women who, despite the perpetual violence against women in the country, joined the former Afghan National Police. She is a high school graduate and has more than ten years’ experience working in the former police in Herat – including as the Head of Herat Women’s Prison.
Recent Amnesty International investigations have documented that the Taliban has extrajudicially and willfully killed members of the former security forces, government supporters and ethnic Hazaras across the country.