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A United Nations human rights official warned the Taliban on Friday to “immediately cease” using force against peaceful protesters in Afghanistan, following weeks of violent attacks on demonstrators across the country by its fighters, including alleged fatal shootings.

Protesters “across various provinces in Afghanistan over the past four weeks have faced an increasingly violent response by the Taliban, including the use of live ammunition, batons and whips,” the official, Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a media briefing in Geneva, according to a transcript of her remarks.

“We call on the Taliban to immediately cease the use of force toward, and the arbitrary detention of, those exercising their right to peaceful assembly and the journalists covering the protests,” she said.

Her comments added to the increasingly bleak picture of Taliban rule in the weeks since the Islamist militant group took power, after initial pledges to govern inclusively and respect press freedoms and women’s rights. An interim government named by the Taliban this week consists entirely of Taliban members, contains no women and eliminates the ministry in charge of ensuring opportunity and rights for women and girls.

A Taliban spokesman, defending the appointments, said they were result of discussions held “all over the country.”

As it named the caretaker government, the Taliban’s harsh handling of protests was on full display earlier this week in Kabul, the capital, where activists and journalists said they faced lashings by Taliban fighters escorting marches. Among those beaten were two journalists who work for Etilaatroz, an Afghan newspaper, the outlet said on Twitter. Photos shared on social media showed their backs covered with red and purple bruises.

“The Taliban should seek to understand the legitimate grievances of these many Afghans who fear for their futures,” Deborah Lyons, the U.N. secretary general’s envoy to Afghanistan, said in a briefing to the Security Council on Thursday, speaking about the attacks on protesters.

Lyons also said there were “credible allegations” that reprisal killings have been carried out against members of the former government’s security forces, despite Taliban pledges of amnesty for soldiers and government officials. “We have received reports of members of the Taliban carrying out house-to-house searches and seizing property, particularly in Kabul,” she said.

Lyons added that she was “increasingly worried” by a growing number of incidents of “harassment and intimidation” targeting Afghan members of the U.N. staff. “The U.N. cannot conduct its work — work that is so essential to the Afghan people — if its personnel are subjected to intimidation, fear for their lives, and cannot move freely,” she said.

Thousands of people, including some U.S. citizens, have attempted to leave Afghanistan since the end of the U.S. military airlift on Aug. 31, but the flow has been limited.

A second civilian airliner left Kabul late Friday bound for Qatar carrying American and other foreign passport holders, according to a Qatari official briefed on the details. The first civilian flight, on Thursday, carried 10 U.S. citizens and 11 green-card holders, according to the State Department. It was not immediately clear how many of the 158 passengers on Friday’s Qatar Airways flight were U.S. citizens. Those departing also included French, Dutch, British, Belgian and Mauritanian nationals, and at least some of the passengers were ferried to the airport in a Qatari convoy, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the logistics.

Taliban members are at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 31, 2021.
Taliban members are at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 31, 2021. (Saifurahman Safi, Xinhua via ZUMA Press/TNS)

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