‘Tomorrow they will kill me’: Afghan female police officers live in fear of Taliban reprisals

With at least four women, including a pregnant mother, targeted and killed by Taliban fighters, female ex-officers feel abandoned by the world

Negar Masumi, a female police officer with 15 years of experience, was determined not to flee when the Taliban took control of her home province of Ghor in central Afghanistan.

On Saturday night, gunmen, who called themselves Taliban mujahideen, stormed Negar’s home. They took her husband and four of her sons into another room and tied them up. Then they beat Negar with their guns and shot her dead, according to a family member, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Negar, who was eight months pregnant, could not believe she would be killed because of her job.

“She didn’t listen to our warnings. Today we buried her bruised and torn body,” says her relative.

Negar Masumi, one of several female police officers to be killed by the Taliban
Negar Masumi, one of several female police officers to be killed by the Taliban Photograph: Handout

The Taliban denied responsibility for her death and told local media that they were investigating the killing. However, Hassan Hakimi, a human rights activist from Ghor province, who has now left Afghanistan, has heard reports that this is the Taliban’s new strategy to avoid responsibility. “The Taliban order their fighters to kill targets secretly and involve their Talib relatives.” That way, he says, the Taliban can argue that it was a family feud.

Although the Taliban promised an amnesty for government and NGO workers, the targeted killing of government employees, especially women who worked for the Afghan security forces, is on the rise.

In the past three months, at least four female police officers apart from Negar Masumi have been killed in Kandahar, Kapisa and Ghazni provinces. In August, after Ghazni province fell, two female police officers were abducted from Ghazni city and murdered by the Taliban, according to local media.

When Lt Maryam*, a counter-terrorism officer in Kabul, saw the threatening letter sent to her parent’s house a day after the collapse of their northern province, she realised that freed prisoners had identified her.

With Afghanistan under Taliban control, women’s voices have been silenced. For this special series, the Guardian’s Rights and freedom project has partnered with Rukhshana Media, a collective of female journalists across Afghanistan, to bring their reporting on the situation for girls and women across the country to a global audience.

Afghan journalists, especially women, face a dire situation.  The free press has been obliterated by the Taliban, and female journalists have been forced to flee or have lost their jobs.  Many of those still in the country are in hiding. Those who have escaped are now refugees facing an uncertain future. 

All of the reporting in this series will be carried out by Afghan women, with support from the editors on the Rights and freedom project.

These are the stories that Afghan women want to tell about what is happening to their country at this critical moment.

The letter was issued by the Taliban military commission in province, according to an unverified copy seen by Rukhshana Media. It names Maryam, 25, as a National Directorate of Security (NDS) officer who interrogated Taliban fighters. “The Islamic emirate considers jihad against infidels and servants its religious obligation, by killing infidels, we are sending them to hell,” reads the first sentence.

Addressed to her father, the letter ordered him to hand over his daughter and son-in-law. “If you don’t hand over that servant [Maryam] and her husband, who also worked for the puppet regime, we will soon kill them and will send them to hell,” it said.

A few days later, on 15 August, Maryam went to work as usual. But within hours the Taliban had entered the capital and she returned home like a fugitive, escaping her office disguised in a long, navy blue robe she borrowed from a colleague.

The Taliban is not the only group threatening women who worked for the Afghan security forces.

“We don’t only fear the Taliban, we also fear the prisoners the Taliban freed,” says Sgt Fatima Ahmadi, 28, a police officer for eight years in Balkh and Kabul provinces.

Ahmadi posted a video on Facebook last August, claiming she had been harassed by two male superiors at work but no one was willing to investigate her complaints. As an act of protest, she set fire to her police identity card. After the video went viral, her relatives cut ties with her and she was attacked three times.

Ahmadi escaped the two first attacks unharmed. “The third time, I was walking home when suddenly a man on a motorbike attacked me with a knife. He stabbed me once in my right hand and three times in my belly.”

Although she reported all three incidents to the police, no one was arrested. “Why did the US and international community encourage us to join the police?” asks Ahmadi, who is losing hope. “Now they must defend us, or at least save our lives.”

“The world must hear our voice, the voice of policewomen,” she adds.

After receiving the threatening letter, Maryam asked for help from countries that had supported women taking jobs in the security forces. But after two weeks without a response, she fled with her husband to Pakistan across the Spin Boldak-Chaman border crossing. “When I heard that some of our colleagues were taken out of their homes and abducted, we were forced to flee,” she says.

Mehri*, 24, a former police officer who is now in hiding, says: “Even in the past 20 years we were living in a bad situation. People, including our families, viewed policewomen as prostitutes. Now, with the Taliban in power, the extremists have an opportunity to take revenge on these women.”

Ahmadi, who is divorced and lives with her two sons, says: “My salary was my only income. Now, I don’t have a job and I live in a rental home.

“There are thousands of policewomen like me: they have no men at home, their children are underage, they live in rental homes and survived on their salaries,” she says. “Now, they are not only forced to stay home, but their lives are in danger.”

When no organisation or country volunteered to help women who worked for Afghan security forces, a well-known Afghan satirist, Musa Zafar, created a list of women at risk to share with organisations or countries that could help evacuate them.

He wrote a post on Facebook (since removed), where he has 72,000 followers, asking these women to email him their information.

“These women were discriminated against by society and their family, and even by the institution in which they worked for, and now the United States and Nato have abandoned them without a thought that these women have sacrificed [so much] for their interests,” says Zafar.

Within days of the post, Zafar received about 230 requests for help from women, but so far, only one member of the US Congress has contacted him to help them.

In the past two decades, 4,500 women have served in the police force, according to a former interior ministry official, and an estimated 2,000 women were in the Afghan army.

“Today they killed Negar, tomorrow they will kill me, the next day they will kill another woman,” Ahmadi says in a voice message she left after hearing about Negar’s death. “I have accepted death, but I want to raise my voice before I die, so other women don’t face death.”

* Some names have been changed to protect their identity


Zahra Joya for Rukhshana Media and Zahra Nader

The GuardianTramp

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