In the first decree issued by the Taliban’s new interior ministry on Wednesday, demonstrations and protests are banned without official approval for both the gathering itself and for any slogans that might be used.
Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is wanted by the United States on terrorism charges, warned that opponents must secure permission before any protests or face “severe legal consequences’”.
The move follows other signs that Afghanistan’s new all-male interim cabinet – made up entirely of Taliban loyalists – is moving rapidly away from earlier promises of moderation and inclusivity.
The prohibition on protests came amid evidence that the Taliban is rapidly consolidating its grip on power after its recent conquest of the last areas opposing it in the Panshjir Valley, north of Kabul.
The formal ban follows violent and sometimes lethal confrontations between Taliban fighters and demonstrators in several cities since the group swept to power, with women often at the forefront of the protests.
In the capital Kabul, a small rally was quickly dispersed by armed Taliban security, while Afghan media reported a protest in the north-eastern city of Faizabad was also broken up.
Hundreds protested on Tuesday, both in the capital and in the city of Herat, where two people at the demonstration site were shot dead.
The protest ban joins other recent ominous signs that the Taliban has little interest in taking a softer line on issues from women’s rights to freedom of expression than during its previous period in power, which was marked by its harsh rule.
In another indication of the darkening situation for human rights, another senior Taliban figure said on Wednesday that Afghan women, including the country’s women’s cricket team, will be banned from playing sport.
In an interview with the Australian broadcaster SBS, the deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, Ahmadullah Wasiq, said women’s sport was considered neither appropriate nor necessary.
“I don’t think women will be allowed to play cricket because it is not necessary that women should play cricket,” Wasiq said. “In cricket, they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this.
“It is the media era, and there will be photos and videos, and then people watch it. Islam and the Islamic Emirate [Afghanistan] do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed.”
The ban was announced as the international community responded warily to the new Taliban government, which began work on Wednesday.
US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, echoed other international figures in saying that the provisional Afghan cabinet was not the inclusive government the Taliban had promised and that the Islamist group needs to earn the international legitimacy and support it seeks.
The EU also joined criticism of the new government for its lack of inclusion, saying it failed to honour vows from the new rulers to include different groups.
Germany, China and Japan also offered a lukewarm reception on Wednesday to the Taliban’s provisional government in Afghanistan, after the Islamist militants’ lightning seizure of Kabul last month. (Source: The Guardian)