Pakistani artists and activists fight for refugee status for arrested Afghan musicians


Local singers and instrumentalists joined human rights activists and politicians in a protest against the arrest of Afghan musicians in Peshawar. They fear there could be dire consequences if the musicians are deported back to Taliban-led Afghanistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS
  • by Ashfaq Yusufzai (peshawar
  • Inter Press Service

“Four musicians arrested by police in Peshawar, the capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, for lack of visas and travel documents, have been sent to jail and will be deported under the 14 Aliens Act,” said a police officer, Nasrullah Shah, against IPS.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is one of the four provinces of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan.

The police arrested the artists on May 27. They had performed for TV and radio in Afghanistan for years, but the Taliban government’s opposition to music silenced them. The group includes Saidullah Wafa, Naveed Hassan, Ajmal and Nadeem Shah.

Shah said they entered Pakistan illegally.

However, the musicians insisted that there was a ban on music at home, and as a result, they faced economic hardship.

“Since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan last August, there has been an unannounced ban on musical activities, which has left the singers and musicians in hot water,” Saidullah Wafa, one of the singers arrested, told IPS. The Taliban are notorious for killing musicians, and they will kill us if we go back,” Wafa said. Before fleeing to Pakistan, he lived in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

He claimed that Taliban militants view music as anti-Islam and have killed many singers and others in the past. Fearing persecution, we came to Pakistan to seek refuge, the 25-year-old said.

Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission has condemned the arrest and possible deportation.

“HRCP is concerned that four Afghan nationals have been arrested by KP police under the Immigration Act of 1946; the court has ordered their deportation. All four are under serious threat from the Taliban government in Kabul,” tweeted the.

Local music journalist Sher Alam Shinwari, who writes for the Dawn newspaper, said the Afghan musicians seized are refugees. He said they cannot and should not be deported to the Taliban-led government in Afghanistan.

“Afghan musicians have never been involved in illegal activities since their arrival in Peshawar and elsewhere in KP. Second, they have rejoined their relatives who are already living in refugee camps or rented houses in and around Peshawar,” Shinwari said.

Most have valid documents or receipt cards, while some of them carried artist registration cards issued by local artist organizations, he said.

Deporting Afghan musicians to the Taliban is tantamount to throwing them to the wolves, as the Taliban have killed several artists in the recent past, Shinwari explained.

The families of most of the musicians already lived in Pakistan and their deportation would be a violation of human rights.

Rashid Ahmed Khan, head of Honary Tolana, a musician’s rights organization, told IPS that the detained musicians are at risk if they are returned.

“They were taken into custody by the police without a search warrant, sent to prison and handed over to the Taliban – which is an inhumane act. These famous performers moved to Peshawar last year when the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan to save their lives, ” he said.

On May 30, local artists staged a protest against the arrest of Afghan musicians in Peshawar and urged the government to allow them to remain in Pakistan as refugees.

Politicians also joined the protest.

Sardar Hussain Babak, a local lawmaker, assured them that they would raise the issues on the floor of parliament.

Some Afghan artists who attended the protest said they had come to Pakistan for their safety and were unable to continue their profession in their own country.

They demanded that the police stop acting against the artists because they were guests in Pakistan and their lives were in danger in Afghanistan.

Local performers, including Saeeda Bibi and others, condemned the police crackdown on the Afghan musicians and demanded their early release.

“The Taliban resorted to violence against the musicians, destroyed their equipment in several places and shot people who even took part in wedding ceremonies in Nangrahar and other provinces of Afghanistan,” Saeeda Bibi told IPS.

“We have filed bail for the arrested performers in the hopes of getting them released as soon as possible,” she said. “We have set a three-day deadline for the police to stop the action against the performers. Otherwise, Afghan and Pakistani performers would march to Islamabad and hold a sit-in until their demands were met.

“We have also appealed to UNHCR to take note of the ordeal of Afghan artists so that they can live as refugees in Pakistan.”

KP Information Minister Muhammad Ali Saif told IPS that the artists should be prosecuted.

“We have hosted 3 million Afghan refugees over the past four decades, which is an outstanding example of hospitality. They will be treated according to the law,” he said.

There were no instructions to police regarding the arrest of Afghan musicians, and the court would decide on their deportation, he said.

Report of the IPS UN Office

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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