One Afghan woman's tortured account of Taliban imprisonment: The story of Tamana Paryani
“The Taliban’s white flags marked the beginning of our dark days,” utters Tamana Paryani.
The calendar showed January 19, 2022, and it was around 8 pm Kabul time. I had the phone in my hand when I received a message. I opened it in a hurry as the events of those days were unravelling fast, especially for Afghan women and I had to know what was happening and where quickly.
I turned up the volume and heard the scream: "The Taliban are behind the door and they want to take me." It was Tamana Paryani's voice.
For a moment, I didn't know how to respond but then once I got myself together, I answered by telling her to film a video.
A few moments passed and I received the video: "Help, please help me, the Taliban are behind the door and I am alone with my sisters." These were the last words of 25-year-old Tamana. Then her phone turned off and I no longer knew what happened next.
I hastily published the video on social media and soon it went viral and became the headlines of the world's media outlets.
The Taliban promptly denied Tamana's arrest and called it staged. But the denial didn't last long and later it became clear that they arrested her with three of her sisters.
"Help, please help me, the Taliban are behind the door and I am alone with my sisters"... These were the last words of 25-year-old Tamana. Then her phone turned off and I no longer knew what happened next...
Eight months on and following their release, Tamana and her sisters continued to experience displacement and homelessness, living in one hidden sanctuary after another while looking for a safe place to continue their lives.
They found that safe space in Germany arriving there this month.
To find out her first-hand experience at the hands of the Taliban, I call Tamana. When I heard her voice, one can hear her resentment toward the Taliban, the same people who killed her army officer brother in 2020.
The resistance story of Tamana and other Afghan women like her dates back to August 17, 2021, two days after the Taliban swept Afghanistan. Tamana went out to the roads of Kabul to demand the restoration of Afghan women's and girls' rights and to say no to the mandatory hijab.
She used to send me videos every day. The footage showed them protesting together while the Taliban fired in the air, sprayed pepper spray towards them or physically abused the young girls who dared challenge Taliban rule – a challenge that exhausted the patience of the Taliban and finally they took her and her sisters from their apartment in Kabul and put them in prison.
Tamana's narration of the 26 days of prison experience is tough and painful to listen to. "In addition to verbal abuse, my captors gave me electric shocks and occasionally hit my fingers with cables," she says with sadness.
She said that she was not the only one who experienced torture and insults in prison, the Taliban also imprisoned other girls. "We could hear the sounds of torture from other cells of the prison too, the voices of girls and boys, which was terrible," she explained.
Tamana says that from the moment when she was taken from her home to the prison, she was tortured verbally and physically, and when they arrived at the jail, the Taliban realised that the video of her screams was widely published and became viral on social media.
This increased their anger and made them more violent. "After watching the video, the brutality increased. But the video helped pressure the Taliban and ultimately led to the saving of our lives," she adds.
"Nothing in life is more important than freedom, a freedom which we Afghan women have already lost"
Tamana narrates one night of torture with particular sorrow: “One night I was sleeping when Taliban fighters entered the prison cell and punched and kicked me, so much so that blood was gushing out and I fainted."
Tamana says that although the Taliban denied her captivity in media briefings, they admitted in conversation with international organisations, including the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) that she is in prison for desecrating the hijab.
She says that finally, due to the pressure of international organisations, and Tamana agreeing to the conditions set by the group, the Taliban released them.
When asked about the conditions, Tamana revealed that "there wouldn't be any protest about their imprisonment, we weren't allowed to be interviewed by the media and we weren't allowed outside of Afghanistan."
Does Tamana regret her resistance? "No, I don't regret it" she replied with determination. Tamana says that their stand showed the real face of the Taliban to the world and that prison taught her the lesson of resistance and indomitability.
She firmly believes that their protests caused the Taliban to remain an isolated regime and no country recognises them as a legitimate ruler of the country. "Nothing in life is more important than freedom, a freedom which we Afghan women have already lost," Tamana said to justify the street protests.
Tamana says that being released from prison was not the end of her problems. Indeed, her silence still torments her. Her captivity caused her parents to fall sick, with both having to stay at Tamana's grandparent's house to avoid danger.
“One of the apartments security guards where we lived called and said that the Taliban are still coming here and [they] will not give up on you and may assassinate you. After that, we start living secretly in different places for several months," she revealed.
Tamana adds that she felt like they were prisoners still, moving from a small prison to a big one.
After August 17, 2021, treacherous conditions remain but she is resolute in her defiance. After being released from prison, she didn't want to see her sisters live in danger so, after a lot of effort, she got passports for them so that they could leave Afghanistan.
Tamana, who does not want to disclose her current location, says that she was finally able to smuggle her father, mother and three sisters out of Afghanistan. But her apprehension hasn't ended yet and still the memories of prison hurt her.
When I asked her about the bitterest memory of her life, she replied: "The killing of my brother by the Taliban and the surrender of Afghanistan to this group by the international community."
This young girl, who is a political science graduate from university, told me that the world cowardly entrusted the fate of the Afghan people to the Taliban. "They are still silent about their crimes," Tamana adds.
She believes that the people of Afghanistan, especially women, have no future under the white flag. "The dark shadows are everywhere, but I will continue to fight to reach the light even as a one-person army," she said.
When I was writing the last lines of the narrative, I felt the toughness of Afghan women. By realising the importance of freedom, Tamana's words continue to echo. "Nothing in life is more important than freedom, the value of which we have already lost."
Abu Muslim Shirzad is a university lecturer and researcher on security and political matters in South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East.
Follow him on Twitter: @MuslimShirzad