In tears, Rameen* said that his life has felt like a “nightmare” ever since Kabul fell to the Taliban on Sunday. “I just hope that somebody comes and wakes me up from this bad dream,” the 37-year-old gay Afghan told Insider during a phone call.
Rameen, who works for the United Nations, once enjoyed Afghanistan’s vibrant “underground” gay scene.
Even though homosexuality was illegal, he said he felt relatively safe making his weekly visit to a clandestine karaoke bar in Kabul to sing and dance with other members of the country’s hidden LGBTQ communities. “It was fantastic and so much fun,” Rameen recalled.
But in days, Rameen’s life, like so many gay Afghans, has been turned upside down. He now lives in constant fear and is too afraid to meet up with his boyfriend of three years.
“If the Taliban finds out about us, they’ll sentence us to death,” Rameen said, crying. “I think we will have to stop our relationship.”
Like Rameen, 21-year-old student Ghulam* also fears that he may not see his partner again.
“If we get caught, the Taliban will kill us,” he told Insider during a phone call.
The Taliban is expected to implement a stringent interpretation of Sharia law, which means homosexuality would be punishable by death. In July, German newspaper Bild reported that a judge from the radical Islamist group vowed to sentence gay men to death by stoning or by being crushed by a nine-foot wall.
Ghulam is so terrified of being identified as gay and put to death, that he has not left his home since the Taliban took over.
“We cannot go out because we are just scared for our lives,” he said.
The student, who has dropped out of his university studies, said he sees “no future” in Afghanistan. “If I had permission to get a visa to go to another country, I would not stay here for another second,” he said.
Sayed*, a 36-year-old gay man from northern Afghanistan’s Balkh province, told Insider via Facebook Messenger that he is also desperately seeking asylum from the new hardline Islamist regime.
Life, he said, has dramatically changed for the worse in the space of a week. “Previously, I could meet face-to-face with a partner without feeling any shame about it,” Sayed said.
Homosexual sex has technically been punishable by death in Afghanistan for decades, but according to the UK Country of Origin Report on Afghanistan, it has not been applied since the end of the Taliban’s first regime in 2001.
Now, Sayed fears that executions will become common, as was the case during the Taliban’s previous period in power. “It’s clear to me that as soon as the Taliban know that I am a gay man, they will kill me without even thinking about it,” he said.
Sayed told Insider he dreams of one day living authentically as a gay man in Canada.
Nemat Sadat, the first public figure in Afghanistan to advocate for LGBTQ rights, told Insider that he is helping gay Afghans like Sayed apply for asylum and leave the country.
Sadat was an organizer of a nascent LGBTQ rights movement in Afghanistan while working as a political science professor at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. After receiving death threats, including a fatwa issued against him, he left the country in 2013 to live in the United States.
‘It’s not hyperbolic to say that gay people will get weeded out’
He is urging the international community to act quickly to help vulnerable people escape persecution at the hands of the new regime.
“It’s not hyperbolic to say that gay people will get weeded out and exterminated by the Taliban, just like the Nazis did,” he said. “People are messaging me saying here’s my passport, here’s all my information, please get me out of this country, I’m going to die.”
Hamid Zaher, 47, who was one of the first Afghan men to come out publicly, told Insider that while LGBTQ Afghans have always faced risks of violence and imprisonment at the hands of the authorities, those dangers pale in comparison to the brutality and intolerance of the Taliban.
He left Afghanistan in 2001 and, after living in Turkey, was able to claim asylum in Canada in 2008.
Zaher said that, even under the US-supported government, it was “a very bad time” for gay men. “Before they could be put in jail, or they could be beaten,” he explained. “But now if the Taliban arrests them, they will kill them.”
Najib Faizi, 21, who describes himself as the first drag queen of Afghan descent, left Afghanistan at aged 10 and sought asylum in Germany with his older sister.
Faizi told Insider that he doesn’t take his freedom for granted. “I’m so happy here. I can do what I want. I’m free,” he said.
His public activism and striking social media presence still mean he receives death threats from conservative Afghans.
The drag queen said that over the past week, he has been fielding desperate pleas on Instagram from people in the country who hope to live freely like him one day.
“I hope others can get asylum. I have contacted people in Germany and said they have to help LGBTQ people. They need help,” he said. “Nobody accepts them.”
‘Now is the time for governments to step up’
Pressure is building on countries to accept vulnerable asylum seekers fleeing persecution at the hands of the Taliban.
Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian charity that helps LGBTQ people escape oppression in their home countries, released a statement urging governments to take in vulnerable Afghan refugees.
“Now is the time for governments to step up and support LGBTQI+ Afghan refugees,” the charity said.
Canada has plans to resettle more than 20,000 Afghans, prioritizing minorities, including female activists and individuals from LGBTQ communities.
The US is predicted to take in fewer than 10,000 refugees this year, the lowest number since 1975, and has accepted fewer than 500 refugees from Afghanistan in 2021, Insider previously reported.
The message to the politicians, bureaucrats, and officials in the West from the gay people of Afghanistan is clear. “I hope I get out of here alive,” said Ghulam.
(* The names of the gay people that Insider spoke to in Afghanistan have been changed to protect their identities)