Afghanistan: Social media users delete profiles over fear of attack

·4 min read
A Taliban fighter stands at a roadside in Herat, 19 September 2021
There have been reports of Taliban fighters killing civilians, despite promises of restraint

Before the Taliban took power in Afghanistan last month, there were numerous influential social media users in the country who were strong opponents of the group's policies.

But since 15 August, Afghans have been deleting photos and tweets from their past - and many have turned away from social media altogether for fear of being targeted by Taliban forces.

Although the Taliban announced a general amnesty for all Afghans who had previously fought against them or were part of the previous government, some of those fleeing the country told the BBC they did not trust the militant Islamist group.

There have been reports from different parts of the country that Taliban fighters have killed civilians after the fall of the capital Kabul, despite the earlier promise of their leaders.

Last week, Taliban Defence Minister Mohammad Yaqoob issued an audio message acknowledging that there had been some reports of "revenge killings" of civilians by the group's fighters. He did not provide further details or mention specific incidents.

The news sparked fears of possible repercussions from social media posts, and Facebook introduced additional features for users in Afghanistan - including allowing them to lock their profiles and deny access to content.

The BBC spoke to two people, one in Kabul and one in another major Afghan city, who had millions of followers on social media and who were considered influential before the Taliban came to power.

Both have since deleted their accounts for fear of being targeted. Given the situation in Afghanistan, the names of the users interviewed have been changed in our report.

'People will be shot in the head, if found'

Fida, an Afghan man based in Kabul, was a prolific social media user and staunch opponent of the Taliban, frequently criticising their policies and behaviour.

But Fida has now deleted his Facebook account and is on a list of people who will be granted asylum abroad by Western countries.

Speaking to the BBC, he claimed that after the Taliban gained control of Kabul, he was told by relatives that he was in danger for playing a detrimental role in the Taliban's war against "occupiers".

"They told my relatives that people will not forgive, despite the general amnesty," he said, adding that his name appeared on a list describing people being "shot in the head wherever they are found".

According to Fida, the day after the Taliban's takeover of the capital, on 16 August, he deleted all of his social media accounts. He said his last Facebook post was anti-Taliban and that he no longer wanted to live in Afghanistan.

"I would rather die than live here now," he said.

'It's the beginning, just wait'

Haris, who now lives under Taliban rule in another city, told the BBC he deleted his social media accounts two days before the fall of Kabul because, he said, "the Taliban regime is coming and democracy is gone".

For many years prior to the Taliban's takeover last month, the Afghan government had been accused of sponsoring social media accounts - allegedly providing salaries from the presidential palace in exchange for posts supporting the government and criticising the Taliban.

But Haris, who is one of hundreds of young Afghans who will soon leave their country and seek refuge elsewhere, said he had never posted anything at anyone's request or for money.

"I was in favour of democracy, not President Ashraf Ghani," he said, adding that he had also posted criticism of Mr Ghani.

Asked why he wanted to leave the country following the Taliban's announced amnesty for all Afghans, he said he felt unsafe.

"They are still targeting people, killing people and searching for them," he said, adding: "It's just the beginning, just wait."

Haris said he believed the Taliban would impose their strict interpretation of Sharia - or Islamic - law across the country in the coming months. "I don't think any educated Afghan will be able to stay here," he said.

The Taliban have repeatedly told Afghans not to leave the country, and to work with them in national institutions so the country's educated can serve their own country instead of serving another.

However, many young Afghans have said they cannot trust the Taliban or their promises, and plan to leave the country as soon as possible.

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