ISLAMABAD – The Taliban have arrested a well-known Afghan fashion model and three of his colleagues, accusing them of disrespecting Islam and the Quran, the Muslim holy book, according to videos released by Afghanistan's new rulers.
Ajmal Haqiqi — known for his fashion shows, YouTube clips and modeling events — appeared handcuffed in videos posted on Twitter by the Taliban intelligence agency on Tuesday.
In one widely circulated and contentious video, Haqiqi is seen laughing as his colleague Ghulam Sakhi — who is known to have a speech impediment that he uses for humor — recites verses of the Quran in Arabic, in a comical voice.
After the arrests, the Taliban released a video of Haqiqi and his colleagues, seen standing in light brown jail uniforms and apologizing to the Taliban government and religious scholars.
The video was accompanied by a tweet in the Dari language, saying: “No one is allowed to insult Quranic verses or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.”
Later Wednesday, Amnesty International released a statement, urging the Taliban to “immediately and unconditionally” release Haqiqi and his colleagues.
Amnesty has documented several arbitrary detentions by the Taliban in Afghanistan, often accompanied by coerced statements in an attempt to stifle dissent in the country and deter others from expressing their views.
Samira Hamidi, Amnesty's South Asia campaigner, denounced the arrests and said that by detaining “Haqiqi and his colleagues and coercing them into apologizing," the Taliban have undertaken “a blatant attack on the right to freedom of expression." Her statement also condemned the Taliban's "continued censorship of those who wish to freely express their ideas.”
In Kabul, Taliban officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment and it was not clear what measures the model and his colleagues face under the Taliban-run judiciary.
The families of the arrested models could also not immediately be reached for comment.
Since they seized power last August in Afghanistan during the final weeks of the U.S. troop pullout from the country, the Taliban have imposed strict measures and edicts according to their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, particularly curbing the rights of women and minorities.
The moves have raised international concerns that the radical Islamic group intends to rule as it did the last time the Taliban held power in Afghanistan, in the late 1990s. The Taliban consider criticism and anything perceived as disrespectful of Islam as a punishable crime.
Amnesty said that since their takeover, the Taliban “have been using intimidation, harassment, and violence on anyone who has expressed support for human rights or modern values, especially human rights defenders, women activists, journalists, and members of academia among others."
The rights group also urged the Taliban as the de facto authority in Afghanistan to “abide by international human rights law and respect everyone’s right to freedom of expression without discrimination.”