The Taliban on Thursday violently cracked down on a small women's rights demonstration, firing shots into the air and pushing back protesters, AFP journalists witnessed.
A group of six women gathered outside a high school in eastern Kabul demanding the right for girls to return to secondary school, after the hardline Islamist group excluded them from classes earlier this month.
The women unfurled a banner that read “Don’t break our pens, don’t burn our books, don’t close our schools”, before Taliban guards snatched it from them.
They pushed back the women protesters as they tried to continue with the demonstration, while a foreign journalist was hit with a rifle and blocked from filming.
A Taliban fighter also released a brief burst of gunfire into the air with his automatic weapon, AFP journalists saw.
The demonstrators — from a group called the “Spontaneous Movement of Afghan Women Activists” — took refuge inside the school.
Taliban guard Mawlawi Nasratullah, who led the group and identified himself as the head of special forces in Kabul, said the demonstrators “did not coordinate with security authorities regarding their protest”.
“They have the right to protest in our country like every other country. But they must inform the security institutes before,” he said.
Isolated rallies with women at the forefront were staged in cities around the country after the Taliban seized power, including in the western city of Herat where two people were shot dead.
But protests have dwindled since the government issued an order that unsanctioned demonstrations and warned of “severe legal action” for violators.
It has been almost two weeks since girls were prevented from going to secondary school.
The Taliban follow a strict interpretation of sharia law that segregates men and women, and have also slashed women’s access to work.
They have said they need to establish the right conditions before girls can return to the classroom, but many Afghans are sceptical.