‘I am not safe’: on the run as a gay man in Afghanistan

Ahmad Faizi’s story is one of many contradicting the UK Home Office guidelines that “it may be a safe and viable option for a gay man to relocate to Kabul”.

Ritu Mahendru
3 March 2017

Ahmad Faizi. Credit: Ahmad FaiziIn Afghanistan, same-sex relationships are illegal under Sharia Law. Article 427 of the Penal Code 1976 states “A person who commits adultery or pederasty shall be sentenced to long imprisonment”. 

Many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) of all ages and in all regions of Afghanistan are exposed to serious risks becoming victims of honour-killings, forced marriages and physical violence from their immediate and extended family members, tribal and community leaders and groups. Similarly, they also run the risk and exposure to sexual abuse and trafficking.

They are discriminated against in the job market, in health clinics, mistreated and disowned by their own families. They are singled out for physical attack – beaten, sexually assaulted, tortured and killed.

A local organisation who secretly provides health services to the LGBT community in Afghanistan has stated that many gay men who visit them are unhappy and share stories of forced marriages, harassment, risks and dangers they encounter on an everyday basis from their families, community, government officials etc. Most of them live a life of stoic acceptance who sooner or later will be a target for Islamists.

The Director of the organization, who has asked to keep their identity private, stated that: “Killing of homosexuals is common in Afghanistan and is increasing day by day”, he further stated that he has heard of cases from reliable sources that “men are being lured into dating and are being killed”. However, you never hear about it because it is highly taboo. He recalled a case that happened two years ago where “four gay men were chopped into pieces after they were lured into coming to a house party in the night in Kōtah-ye Sangī in Kabul”. 

However, the UK Home office guidance on sexual orientation and gender identity on Afghanistan states that if an Afghan gay person could “conceal aspects of his or her sexual orientation/identity […] they may not have a well-founded fear of persecution”

Asked to comment on this, the Director of the LGBT organisation is flabbergasted: “how could someone conceal their sexual orientation? It is naïve of the British government to think that this community is safe here. I see them day-in and day-out. I see their plight, I feel for them. I almost always feel helpless.”

‘Everyone is scared about getting killed' 

One such case is that of Ahmad Faizi, a 26-year-old Pashtoon man, at present in Herat province.

Ahmad Faizi is on the run, afraid of getting killed by his male family members, the government and community leaders. Ahmad wants me to use his real name and photos. “[I am] tired of escaping and I want the world to know my story”, he says.

“My family suspect that I am gay because I behave like girls. My uncles, my former boss, and the Afghan government are trying to kill me. My family tells me that I am an Eezak (derogatory and colloquial term for someone who is neither male nor female), I act like a girl, I played with their honour, and that I don’t want to marry. They are angry and want to kill me. Only my mother supports me.” 

“I had three boy friends but we had to keep it a secret. They were all married. One of them has now left the country, the other one was killed by Taliban in an explosion, and I am separated from my third boyfriend”.

"“Because I am like a girl I was raped in Farah province, with a pistol to my head when I was 22 in 2014. I lodged a complaint against the perpetrator but I was asked to take the complaint back with the suggestion that rape was my fault and I should have left because honour is more important than life. The next day I was arrested for ten days”. 

Ahmad Faizi. Credit: Ahmad Faizi“Following this my mum sent me to Kabul and I stayed there for six months. Kabul is not safe for people like me. It is difficult to meet another man for serious relationship because everyone is scared about getting killed and revealing their sexuality. There are many insurgents and organised groups in Kabul. Like Taliban, radical Muslims, Mujahideen and many dangerous people. Kabul is like a wild zoo or a jungle full of wild animals. I have seen human blood on the streets. The election between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah has created many problems for people in Kabul. So I left Kabul and went to Herat. I have been in Herat for two years now”.

“I am trying to leave Afghanistan because of the threat to my life from my family and government. I have brought shame to the family but I just want to find a nice man to love and marry”. 

‘No one to protect us’

It is important to understand the difference between bacha-bazi and homosexuality.  Bacha-bazi is equivalent to child sexual abuse whereas having a self-defined sexual identity is a human right set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights., Afghanistan is yet to provide stringent penalties and govern bacha-bazi activities (although the president has vowed to criminalise the practice), however it has denied rights to those who choose a life of freedom.

I also spoke to 28-year-old Khyber (a pseudonym used for his protection) who is currently on the run in Mazar-e-Sharif. He reported that Afghan gay men are at risk of systematic honour-killings, ‘sexuality cleansing’ and physical violence by state and non-state actors. 

“When I was 17 my parents imprisoned me. They didn’t give me food and they tried to change me. They made me fear from religious punishment and Quran and they tried to kill me if I didn’t change my nature. They threatened me. I ran away after that. I am in the city (Mazar-e-Sharif). I rent a room for myself and live with friends. I am displaced but I am free from my home. If my parents find me they will try to change me. A month ago some of my relatives found my whereabouts and injured me. They broke my tooth and the back of my ear.”

“About three months ago, two men were killed by unknown people for being gay during dating situation. The government capture gays and will imprison them for 10-18 years. It is clear for Afghans that it’s a big crime here. Government don’t mention them, they don’t want to appear in TV and media. It’s a hidden punishment. Afghanistan is totalitarian country. There are [many] human rights organisations  working with the government in Afghanistan and none of them can prevent punishment for gay men.” 

“As a gay man, it is dangerous thing to go on a date in Afghanistan. If they reveal their gay identity they will receive threats. There is no guarantee about their safety”.

‘Kabul is more dangerous’

Homophobic views and violence against LGBT groups in Afghanistan are pervasive. Kabul is a political hub where many powerful groups flex their muscles using tribal influence, wealth, and violence with an obvious and iniquitous agenda to contribute towards political and social order across Afghanistan including in the capital itself. The strong network base dependent on kinships, social and religious alliances makes it difficult to maintain anonymity in Afghanistan in general. In this context, geographical distances and mobility play little or no role in protecting gay men. 

Denigrating sexual identities is part of a political game to make a statement and express your loyalty to Islam and the Quran, resulting in bigger kinship and influence over key decisions in the capital city. This results to an imminent threat and violence from the police and government officials that hang over gay men like a dark cloud in Kabul. Kabul adds another layer of risk that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the country. The situation is clearly contrary to UK Home Office guidance notes that suggest that it “may be a safe and viable option for a gay man to relocate to Kabul”.

In a country that punishes the prudent while protects the profligate, “homosexual relationships are scrutinised in private. This is the reason they never make headlines and receive any news coverage,” says the Director. Raped and beaten, gay men are vulnerable and exposed to egregious violations of their human rights in Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan alike.

The past two years has shown intensity in the conflict in Afghanistan especially in Kabul. The war continues to remain unabated, showing an increase in Taliban and IS gains, both in territory and influence. Only 63.4% of the country is within government control with 1.4 million people internally displaced due to insecurity and the insurgency. This number is increasing. Given that the Afghan government do not have the institutional capacity to provide security and support for vulnerable displaced groups such as women, children and homosexuals, they are ever more vulnerable with lack of access to safe places.

In fact, the organisation’s Director says: “Kabul is more dangerous than other provinces [in Afghanistan] from the legal system’s point of view. There are legal entities and government ministries here. Gay men are seen as an easy target for exploitation by police and military forces and to make political statements [within the kinship setting]”.

He further added, “There is no protection from the legal justice system and they are also the ones who misuse the system. Deporting gay Afghan asylum seekers would be a very big mistake”.

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