The situation for the LGBT+ community in Afghanistan has never been easy. Same-sex relations have always been taboo in the Muslim-majority country, where – even under the former Western-backed Government – non-heterosexual relations were illegal. They could lead to up to two years in prison.
But since the Taliban rose to power after the U.S. military withdrawal on August 30, the situation has escalated quickly. Although the militant group has not yet publicly said how it intends to deal with homosexuality, reports are hinting that the Taliban is applying a strict version of Sharia law, under which same-sex relations may be punishable by death.
“This is a really scary time to be in Afghanistan,” Executive Director Kimahli Powell of Rainbow Railroad, the only international LGBT+ organization on the ground in Afghanistan, told FRANCE 24 in a telephone interview.
“We now know for sure the Taliban has a ‘kill list’ circulating, identifying LBTQI+ persons.”
According to Powell, the Taliban most likely benefited from the power vacuum that took place in the days and weeks leading up to the U.S. withdrawal deadline to draw up these “kill lists” by paying close attention to the names of people that foreign rights groups were trying to evacuate. “After the fall of Kabul, there was a lot of information sharing,” he said, noting that the people who never made it aboard any of the departing flights were instead left vulnerable, with their identities exposed.
Powell also said the Taliban seem to have compiled these lists through active persecution using “entrapment” and data leaks.
“[Some] individuals who have reached out to us have told us about how they’ve received a mystery email from someone claiming to be connected with Rainbow Railroad asking for their information and passport. That’s how we know the information has been leaked.”
Rainbow Railroad was established in 2006 to aid at-risk LGBT+ people worldwide fleeing violence and persecution in their homelands. In 2017, the group shot to worldwide fame after helping more than a hundred people escape persecution during the deadly anti-gay purge in Chechnya.
In the past few months, most of its attempts have been focused on Afghanistan, where it is helping threatened members of the local LGBT+ community find temporary refuge in safe houses, after which it tries to bring them “by land or by air” to permanent safety abroad.