On October 28, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its latest report on religious minorities in Afghanistan.

The USCIRF notes in its Afghanistan Fact Sheet that the report documents the worsening state of religious freedom in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized control of the nation on August 15, 2021.

"Afghans who do not adhere to the Taliban's harsh and strict interpretation of Islam, as well as those who follow other faiths or beliefs, face grave threats in the current environment-despite initial statements from the Taliban that it had reformed some elements of its ideology," states the commission.

Furthermore, the commission reports that a notoriously draconian hardline Islamist police system was reinstated in September 2021 by the Taliban: the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Relevant takeaways from the report

Due to fear of punishment, many members of Afghanistan's religious minorities have kept their faith hidden for years. That's because the Taliban considers converting from Islam to a different religion to be apostasy, which is a capital offense under Sharia law.

"In September 2021, despite promises to form an "inclusive" government, the Taliban announced an all-male, religiously, and ethnically homogenous cabinet," states the USCIRF report.

With the reinstatement of the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in September, a lot of things have been enforced.

"The ministry recently banned barbershops from shaving or trimming men's beards and warned hair salons not to give Western-styled haircuts, " cited the report as an example.

But what's more concerning is what the USCIRF said about the Taliban leadership and rival terrorist organization Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K), both operating in Afghanistan, harassing, threatening, and attacking members of religious minority populations.

Afghan Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, Baha'is, and other groups were reportedly unable to freely express their religions or views for fear of facing severe repercussions, including murder, if caught by the Taliban.

"Ahmadi Muslims are not recognized by either the Sunni or Shi'a Muslim faiths and have experienced a long history of persecution in Afghanistan, including public stoning in the early 19th and 20th centuries," explains the report. "Today, Afghan Ahmadis practice their faith in secret due to continued societal persecution and discrimination."

As for Afghan Christians, they are all deemed "apostates" under Afghan law, which mandates courts to use Hanafi Shari'a law. Converts who previously suffered ostracism and the prospect of honor killings at the hands of family and community members face an even greater risk now that the Taliban is in control.

The USCIRF has received reports that the Taliban have been going door-to-door in search of U.S. supporters, former government employees, human rights advocates, and Christian converts. These has also been previously reported by other sources including the report on Taliban insurgents threatening Christians and their families through a letter. Consequently,  some Christians have gone as far as turning off their phones and hiding in secret.

Although religious freedom in the nation were terrible under the previous administration, the report asserts that it has further deteriorated and have become severe under the Taliban rule, with little hope of improving in the near future.

Thus, the report's conclusion reads: "To protect members of vulnerable religious communities

against the threats outlined in this factsheet, USCIRF called on the State Department to expand its Priority 2 (P-2) designation granting U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) access for certain Afghan nationals and their family members to explicitly include members of Afghan religious minorities in recognition of the severe risk of persecution they face from the Taliban."