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ICC NOTE: Saudia Arabia also has a Virtue and Prevention of Vice group, which is commonly called the Mutawaa’in. This group routinely arrests people and many times carries out what they think should be done, never giving any accountability to the police or authorities. This group could potentially pose a special threat to Christians and other non-Muslim faiths.

AFGHANISTAN : RELIGIOUS POLICE RAISES CONCERN AMONG RIGHTS GROUPS

July 25 2006

(For the full article go to: IRIN) – An Afghan government decision to recreate the notorious Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has raised grave concerns among human rights groups. The government announced plans last week to re-establish the vice and virtues department, but said it would not return to the hardline ruling enforced by the Taliban.

Until the Taliban’s five-year rule was ended by the US-led coalition in late 2001, the virtue and vice ministry enforced numerous restrictions. Men were instructed to grow beards and women were forced to wear all-covering burqas, while girls’ schools, television and gambling were banned. Even kite-flying was considered a crime. Those who had violated the rules faced imprisonment and public beatings.

“Re-instalment of the Department of Vice and Virtue with no clear terms of reference yet is a matter of concern for us,” Ahmad Nader Nadery, spokesman of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), told IRIN in Kabul .

“A similar department under the Taliban regime was a tool to interfere in the privacy of life of every individual to suppress the citizens and to limit all rights and freedoms of people,” he said.

While sharing principles with its Taliban-era predecessor, the focus would be on preaching and advising people about the correct way to act, an official said.

The draft of the plan, which is approved by the cabinet, will be submitted for parliamentary approval when the Afghan National Assembly reconvenes later this summer.

“In principle there is no problem with this department unless it operates like a religious police,” said Aziz Rafee, head of Afghan Civil Society Forum (ACSF) in Kabul .

But women’s rights activists are sceptical.

Kabul activist Nasrin Abubaker said she believed the office would become “a fully Taliban-like department” within the next two years.

“The government should pay strict attention to the major issues such as the deteriorating security and unemployment in the country rather than focusing on such small matters, which could only bring about new limitations for women and girls,” Abubaker said.

Meanwhile, analysts believe that Afghan President Harmid Karzai’s cabinet made the announcement after facing considerable pressure from the country’s deeply conservative religious scholars, former mujahideen commanders and other extremist groups who hold strong positions in government.

“It is merely an effort from the extremist groups in the government to curb the civil rights and personal freedom of civilians,” local analyst Qasim Akhgar said.