Jörg Hutter: “LGBT+ Afghans face physical annihilation”!
By Manuel Opitz of GEO+
In Afghanistan, the Taliban systematically persecute queer people. Jörg Hutter of the Lesbian and Gay Association in Germany (LSVD) and the director of Afghanistan Rainbow Organization reports how lesbians, gays and Trans people are tortured and killed, where the hatred comes from – and how evacuations might work.
Opitz: In August 2021, the Taliban took power in Afghanistan again. How does their regime affect queer people?
Dr. Jörg Hutter: All lesbians, gays and Trans people are threatened with physical extermination. The Taliban had announced the persecution of queer people right after they took power, and apparently they are now implementing it consistently. We fear the largest organized murder of queer people since World War II.
What do you know specifically about the situation of lesbian, gay and trans people in the country?
Our contacts in Afghanistan report about people in their circle of acquaintances who suddenly disappear without a trace. Apparently, the Taliban have set up prisons especially for queer people. We have photos of cruelly tortured people; maltreated or executed with lashes, burns and beatings. In some cases, queer people are killed directly during raids or street checks, without any trial. Lesbian women are particularly hard hit: They are threatened with a fate as sex slaves. They are abducted and are supposed to bear children for Taliban commanders. No one can estimate how many people have already perished or are currently in custody.
Where does the hatred of queer people come from?
The Taliban’s state ideology is geared toward a society that is completely egalitarian and uniform. There is no provision for deviations from the norm. This applies to people who do not conform to the hetero-normative majority society because of their sexuality, but also to ethnic minorities such as the Hazaras, who are persecuted by the Taliban.
Why is it so difficult for lesbians and gays in Afghanistan to remain undetected?
In this totalitarian system, there is no such thing as a private life. Anyone who reaches adulthood and remains unmarried and has no children is already suspect.
Even external characteristics can have fatal consequences: In Taliban’s Afghanistan, all men are expected to wear a long beard. Those who do not have enough beard growth are considered feminine and potentially gay. In addition, the Taliban confiscate the cell phones of those arrested and then go through their contact lists. Others are tortured until they betray other queer people. All of this, of course, can mistakenly affect people who are straight.
What do these massive threats mean for the everyday lives of LGBT+ people?
Many live under permanent fear of death. They have to expect that their homes can be searched at any time, that they will be arrested, tortured and killed. People live in a permanent state of stress. This is one of the reasons why we keep receiving news of suicides.
What can the Lesbian and Gay Association in Germany do to help?
We offer a digital contact point for queer people in Afghanistan, assess their risk situation and refer them to the Federal Ministry of the Interior. To be evacuated, people seeking help have to go to Pakistan. To do so, they need an Afghan passport, which many Afghans must first apply for at a cost, as well as a Pakistani entry visa. In order for these people to be able to afford the necessary papers and legally leave for Pakistan, we transfer donations to Afghanistan via the USA. Rescue flights then take off from the Pakistani capital Islamabad to Germany. Currently, several hundred people registered with us are waiting to be evacuated.
But the German government has stopped the admission program for threatened Afghans in April 2023 for the time being after attempts at abuse.
That’s right, nothing is happening right now. This is all the more tragic because Germany has so far been the only country besides Canada to take in queer people seeking help from Afghanistan. All other countries are watching. That is why we demand that the admission program be reactivated quickly. What would also be needed is a global effort to get the people out. The longer we wait, the fewer lesbian, gay and trans people there will be in Afghanistan who can be rescued at all. The people who are left behind are doomed to die.
Can’t it actually happen that heterosexual people pretend to be queer in order to come to Germany?
This danger exists. That is why we are working here in Germany with several Afghan human rights activists. They conduct a video interview via WhatsApp with all those who contact us and are eligible for evacuation. In the process, their identity and life story are verified. We look very closely at whether what a person tells us can be true at all. Even before the admissions program was suspended, a number of lesbians and gay men could be evacuated from Afghanistan in 2022.
Do they continue to face threats here in refugee shelters?
To some extent, yes. Several queer refugees had to be evacuated from refugee shelters. This was because they were housed with a group of compatriots, of all people. These were correspondingly hostile towards lesbians and gays, as they knew it from their homeland.
How can such assaults be prevented?
The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees must ensure that queer people seeking help are adequately accommodated, for example in single rooms or guarded refugee accommodations. Above all, such refugees should be housed in large cities where they have the opportunity to meet other queer people and gain a foothold in society.