Security forces in Kabul fired shots into the air and beat women protesting Taliban rule Saturday as dozens demanded the right to education, work and political participation on the eve of the first anniversary of the Islamist group’s takeover of Afghanistan.
Rally participants chanted “we want work, bread, and freedom” as they marched toward the Education Ministry in the Afghan capital before Taliban forces responded violently to the rare anti-government rally.
“August 15 is a black day,” read a banner protesters were carrying as they demanded the right to work and political participation, chanting “Justice, justice.”
Witness accounts and social media documented many women at the rally not wearing face veils.
Some of the female protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by security forces with their rifle butts, witnesses said.
Heavy gunfire could be heard in social media video of the rally, with Taliban men assaulting female protesters. They also violently prevented Afghan journalists from covering the rally.
Amnesty international expressed concern on Twitter about reported use of “excessive force” by the Taliban to disperse women who were protesting peacefully.
Taliban officials did not immediately comment on the allegations.
The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last August 15 from the internationally backed Afghan government as U.S.-led and NATO allies withdrew their troops from the country after almost 20 years of war with the Taliban.
The hardline group’s all-male interim government in Kabul has since significantly rolled back women’s rights to work and education, barring most teenage girls from resuming secondary school in a breach of promises the Taliban made to respect rights of all Afghans.
Women employed in the public sector have been told to stay at home, except for those who work for the ministries of education, health and a few others, and must use face coverings in public.
They have also banned women from traveling alone on long trips and require them to fully cover themselves, including their faces, in public.
The restrictions angered female activists and they initially staged small demonstrations against them, but the Taliban used violence and detained organizers, effectively deterring such rallies for months.
The Taliban defend their policies as being in line with Afghan culture and Shariah or Islamic law.