The Taliban is using monkeypox as an “excuse” to harass and detain LGBTQ+ people in Afghanistan.
Two gay men who live in Kabul told PinkNews that the Taliban’s persecution of LGBTQ+ people has been ramping up ever since monkeypox started being detected in Europe.
While not sexually transmitted, public health officials believe monkeypox is being transmitted in these networks through close contact during sex – though experts have also suggested the statistics may be skewed towards queen men because they are more conscious of their sexual health.
Right now, Afghanistan has not officially recorded any cases of monkeypox – but that hasn’t stopped the Taliban from using the spread of the virus to crack down on and attack the LGBTQ+ community.
Monkeypox has emboldened the Taliban to ‘harass’ LGBTQ+ Afghans
Maalek*, a gay man living in Kabul, told PinkNews that the Taliban’s persecution of LGBTQ+ people has only worsened since the monkeypox outbreaks began.
“The Taliban have no scientific knowledge about the disease,” Maalek says. “The Ministry of Health has stated that no cases of the disease have been registered, yet they are still looking for excuses to harass the Afghan gay community.”
He continues: “Wherever they see handsome men wearing no local clothes, they check their cell phones and, if they find the slightest evidence that they are gay, they arrest them and take them away.
“When they detain homosexuals, [they tell the public it’s to] prevent the spread of monkeypox.”
According to Maalek, trans people are just as much at risk. If the Taliban finds a nude photo on a person’s phone, they will beat and detain them.
Being detained by the Taliban is a terrifying prospect for Maalek. He knows a gay man who was arrested and raped by six Taliban members.
“He now suffers from a mental illness and has fled Kabul,” Maalek says. “The Taliban do not like anyone to wear fashionable clothes. They threaten all homosexuals with death after being detained. They say they should wear local clothes, should not shave their beards and act as they wish.”
Trans people cannot even come out of their house.
Like most LGBTQ+ Afghans, Maalek has been forced to change his behaviour and the way he presents himself to the world in a bid to stay safe from the Taliban.
“We no longer go to beauty salons to cut our beards, we can not even cut our hair in a modern way. We can not wear stylish and acceptable clothes. Trans people cannot even come out of their house because they are arrested immediately.
“Personally, I go out in local clothes now. I do not bring my smartphone with me when I leave home. I try not to leave home without doing my homework. Their checkpoints are very dangerous.”
LGBTQ+ Afghans are ‘scared and miserable’
Maalek’s claim that the Taliban is cracking down on LGBTQ+ people ever since monkeypox started spreading in the community was backed up by another gay man who lives in Kabul.
Timur* thinks the Taliban is using the spread of the virus in other countries as another reason to “torture” LGBTQ+ people.
“I’m afraid in Afghanistan. I’m afraid of being arrested by the Taliban,” Timur says. “I’m not leaving home. I’m scared and miserable.
“I’m asking the big governments of London and other countries to help me and all LGBTQ+ people leave Afghanistan.”
Nemat Sadat – a gay Afghan author and activist who lives in the US – has also received reports that gay men are being “singled out” by the Taliban because of monkeypox.
“The Taliban are rounding up gay people on the grounds that homosexuals carry monkeypox,” Sadat tweeted.
“They are singling out pretty men and checking their phones. This operation is happening in the Lycée Mariam, Khairkhana neighbourhood and all the districts of Kabul.”
LGBTQ+ Afghans have been facing heightened persecution since the Taliban seized power in August 2021. Reports suggest that queer people have been killed, raped, beaten and arrested for arbitrary reasons ever since the takeover.
Ever since monkeypox was detected in the UK and other European countries in May, concerns have been raised about anti-LGBTQ+ stigma.
Health experts have said the virus appears to be predominantly circulating among gay and bisexual men, however, they are clear that it is not a “gay disease”.
It is believed that monkeypox is spread through close contact with an infected person’s skin, meaning that anybody is susceptible. Because of the way it is transmitted, it’s thought that monkeypox is working its way through sexual networks.
Officials said the risk could be upgraded to “high” if the virus spreads to those who are medically vulnerable, such as children and immunosuppressed people.
*Names have been changed.