Shahryar

A young gay activist fighting for a future

Shahryar

"Our existence is in danger."


Shahryar (a pseudonym) is a 20 year old Afghan from Herat. Shahryar was a teenager when he first realised he was gay. It was a few years after his family had relocated to Herat from Daikundi, his birthplace. It wasn't until another few years later, at fifteen, that he had his first real relationship. For a year it seemed like the start of forever. But then they separated.


Shahryar feels forced to hide his life as a gay man. He has even concealed it from his family. However, he publicly advocates for the rights of the Afghan LGBTQ community on social media. Shahryar told Afghan Witness (AW) that his social media accounts had been reported and taken down multiple times, but his resolve remained firm to continue his online activism.


Shahryar was getting ready for Kankor (the university entrance exam) when the Taliban captured Herat on 12 August 2021 after a series of failed attempts. After the Taliban takeover, Shahryar realized he could no longer remain in Herat. He said:


"Before the Taliban take over, though Afghan LGBTQs lived in fear from the wider community and the religious fundamentalists, we could exist. Under the Taliban regime, however, our existence is in danger."


After Herat city fell to the Taliban, they began chasing and cracking down on their opponents, civil society activists, and former government officials. Shahryar told AW that the Taliban killed people under the fake justification that they were thugs and kidnappers. Shahryar's LGBTQ friends began hiding and relocating to various locations. After one of his close friends went missing, Shahryar decided he must go into hiding too.


"I lost contact with my closest friend. His phone was suddenly unreachable, and his social media accounts and pages disappeared. I learned that some of my social media followers and so-called 'friends' had reported me to the Taliban and that now they were after me."


Shahryar's initial plan was to travel to Daikundi and hide there for some time, but his friends advised otherwise. After two months of hiding in Herat, Shahryar decided to leave Afghanistan. Since there was no legal way of traveling, he decided to go to Nimroz (a Southwestern province of Afghanistan that lies to the east of Iran) and cross the border illegally from there into Iran. With the financial help from his family and borrowed cash from his friends, Shahryar embarked on a dangerous journey, paying 7 million Iranian Rial (~$170 USD) to human smugglers.


"We were 200 people in total when we left towards Iran. But not all of us managed to cross to the other side. I jumped over a wall and then took refuge in the trunk of a car. I had to stay crouched up in there for hours, which did my back in. It did something to my Lumbar disc. I am still in pain from it every day."


After entering Iran, Shahryar managed to get out of the refugee camp with the help of his friends. He then traveled to Isfahan, where he currently resides (we changed the name of the actual city due to privacy and security reasons). For the first several days, Shahryar had to stay in bed due to injuries he had endured during his journey from Nimroz to Iran. He then managed to find a job and earn just enough to cover his daily expenses such as food, clothing and a phone as he continues to be active on social media and advocate for the rights of Afghanistan's LGBTQ community, despite the risks.


Shahryar has applied for asylum in Germany, and he is waiting to hear back from the authorities. In the meantime, he is in touch with organisations supporting the LGBTQ communities in several countries and he has received some vital, if limited, support from them.


"I suffer from depression and go through periods without hope, but I can never stop my advocacy. That gives me a reason. With the Taliban in power, Afghan LGBTQs have no future. They're facing really tough circumstances whether they're inside or outside Afghanistan. The suicide rate is terrible, no one even talks about that."


However, he ends this interview with an optimism that the younger generation in Afghanistan is aware, knowledgeable, and tech-savvy. It may take time, he admits, but ultimately they will stand together for their rights and challenge the Taliban.


Interview by Afghan Witness

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