The Taliban is hunting down a female Afghan prosecutor who for years has investigated child abuse cases involving the militant group, forcing her into hiding for fear of execution.
The prosecutor, who Newsweek will refer to only as Mina—not her real name—to shield her identity, shared with this publication a threatening ultimatum letter she received from the Taliban’s military council before she fled her home in the central Wardak province.
“You have been accused by the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate of aiding and abetting infidels,” said the letter, which was addressed to Mina directly. “We order you to leave your job and help and cooperate with the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate.”
It added: “You will not be harmed by the Mujahideen if you please Allah.”
“I will 100 per cent be killed if found,” Mina said, adding that a former colleague was executed by Taliban fighters in Panjshir on Monday. Newsweek was unable to independently verify that report.
Mina said Taliban officials are now offering a bounty of 500,000 Pakistani rupees—around $3,000—for any information on her whereabouts. The sum is just shy of the national median income of around $4,000.
Her investigations are embarrassing for the Taliban, which is attempting to pivot from a stoic guerrilla organization to a functioning government as it seeks to assert its control over all aspects of Afghan society.
“They forced children to help plant bombs on roads and in cars,” Mina told Newsweek. “A lot of them died.”
Mina is in a particularly precarious position given she is Hazara—a minority group making up between 10 and 20 per cent of the population that was brutally oppressed by the Taliban when it took power in the 1990s, including several massacres.
“The Taliban won’t accept women working,” Mina added, noting that the Taliban’s offer of amnesty for previous government workers does not really extend to legal professionals or some specialist police officers.
Since sweeping the country and taking the capital Kabul in August, the Taliban has worked hard to portray a more moderate, professional image in its rhetoric.
But even as its spokesmen ruled out retribution killings and promised safety for women, Taliban fighters pursued former government employees and kidnapped young women to marry off to militants.
Segregation of men and women is seeping into schools and universities, while Taliban officials urge women to comply with their version of Sharia law—stringent even by the standards of the Islamic legal system.
Some women are pushing back against the return of hardline Taliban rule. Protests have been held across the country demanding the protection of hard-won female freedoms over the past two decades, with marchers also railing against the threat of greater Pakistani influence over Afghanistan via its Taliban ties.
Taliban fighters broke up several demonstrations by beating and shooting at protesters. Demonstrators were stripped of jobs in Herat, according to some reports, with female bank tellers also ordered out of their bank in Kandahar.
The militant group also asked most working women to stay at home, citing “security reasons.”
Afghan women and human rights observers are warning that early signs suggest the Taliban is committed to rolling back 20 years of progress—even if limited and focused on urban centres—for Afghanistan’s oppressed women.
“Afghanistan is my country,” Mina told Newsweek. “I love where I live. It’s very dangerous for me. I am trying to leave Afghanistan, but I have no way out.”