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Fury as Karzai plans return of Taliban's religious police
The Afghan government has alarmed human rights groups by approving a plan to reintroduce a Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the body which the Taliban used to enforce its extreme religious doctrine.
The proposal, which came from the country's Ulema council of clerics, has been passed by the cabinet of President Hamid Karzai and will now go before the Afghan parliament.
"Our concern is that the Vice and Virtue Department doesn't turn into an instrument for politically oppressing critical voices and vulnerable groups under the guise of protecting poorly defined virtues," Sam Zia Zarifi of Human Rights Watch said. "This is specially in the case of women, because infringements on their rights tend to be justified by claims of morality."
Under the Taliban the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice became notorious for its brutal imposition of the Taliban's codes of behaviour.
Religious police patrolled the streets, beating those without long enough beards and those failing to attend prayers five times a day. Widows suffered particular hardship because of the diktat that women be accompanied by a male relative when out of their homes, an impossibility for thousands of women widowed during decades of war.
The Ministry was also charged with the imposition of the Taliban's interpretation of sharia punishment. Executions at Kabul football stadium, which included female prisoners shot in the centre circle, did much to fuel the Taliban's international isolation.