Friday, July 21, 2006


A proposal to reestablish the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Afghanistan raises serious concerns about potential abuse of the rights of women and vulnerable groups according to several human and womens rights groups.

I guess!

“Our concern is that the Vice and Virtue Department doesn’t turn into an instrument for politically oppressing critical voices and vulnerable groups under the guise of protecting poorly defined virtues,” said Sam Zia Zarifi of Human Rights Watch (HRW). “This is especially true in the case of women, because infringements on their rights tend to be justified by claims of morality.”

You think?

HRW reports President Karzai came under pressure from conservative political figures two months ago to reestablish the department in order to counter anti- Western propaganda by opposition groups. The president then appointed a panel with representatives from the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Haj and Religious Affairs, and the Supreme Court, which drafted a proposal and presented it to the cabinet. The cabinet approved the draft and plans to submit it for parliamentary approval when the Afghan National Assembly reconvenes later this summer.

Under Taliban rule, the religious police monitored the streets, whipped women who did not wear the burqa in public, beat men with unorthodox beards or anyone who listened to music, all this in order to enforce their fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law.

Oh yeah, they also executed people in public for more serious violations of "Islamic teaching."

Government’s spokesperson Mohammad Asif Nang said that the country’s clerics wanted to re-establish the department to enforce Sharia rule.

The Minister for Haj and Religious Affairs, Nematullah Shahrani, defended the proposal to Asia News. “The job of the department will be to tell people what is allowable and what is forbidden in Islam." He claimed the group would not have police powers.

Asia News reports that fundamentalism is gaining ground in the country without any opposition from the authorities. In fact, many of the Taliban's strict laws remain in place under the new Afghan government.

Karzai, who has a reputation of being a moderate Muslim, has more recently tried to give the country a more conservative outlook after Taliban propaganda tried to depict him as leading a pro-Western and unislamic government.

Uh, so his recourse is to become a "snapily dressed" Taliban?

The following is from the Feminist Daily Newswire.

Possible Return of Taliban’s Religious Police Threatens Afghan Women's Rights

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his cabinet have approved the reestablishment of the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The Afghan Parliament will consider the proposal when it reconvenes later this summer. Initiated by the Taliban, the Vice and Virtue Department sent religious police to patrol the streets where they brutally punished Afghan citizens for disobeying the Taliban's interpretation of Sharia law.

Women were particularly affected by the religious police as they were publicly beaten for such arbitrary offenses as wearing white shoes, showing their wrists or ankles, or going outside their home without a male relative. Women were also prevented from attending school, working, or being seen by a male physician, while women doctors and nurses were banned from working.

It is not clear what powers the proposed Vice and Virtue Department would have. Nader Nadery of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission told The Independent, "It will remind people of the Taliban. We are worried that there are no clear terms of reference for this body." The Minister for Haj and Religious Affairs, Nematullah Shahrani denied that the Department would have police powers, instead claiming that it's duty would be to "tell people what is allowable and what is forbidden in Islam…through radio, television and special gatherings," reports The Independent.

This proposal comes at an especially critical time for Afghan women and girls as the burning and bombing of girls' schools has reached crisis proportions. Ahmed Rashid, a well known author and expert on the Taliban recently wrote in the Washington Post that "...every single day somewhere in Afghanistan a girls' school is burned down or a female teacher killed by the Taliban." Many districts have closed all of their schools according to a recent Human Rights Watch Report

"Afghan women and girls face increasing insecurity, and it's more important for the government to address how to improve their access to public life rather than limit it further," said Coursen-Neff of Human Rights Watch, "Reinstatement of this controversial department risks moving the discussion away from the vital security and human rights problems now engulfing the country."

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