Islamabad - Afghanistan's ruling Taliban have illegally detained and tortured residents in northern Panjshir province for their alleged links to armed opposition forces, Human Rights Watch said Friday.
The U.S.-based global rights monitoring group said fighting had escalated in Panjshir since mid-May, when fighters of the National Resistance Front (NFR) started attacks on Taliban units and checkpoints. The violence prompted the Taliban to deploy thousands of fighters to the province and conduct search operations.
"Taliban forces in Panjshir province have quickly resorted to beating civilians in their response to fighting against the opposition National Resistance Front," said Patricia Gossma, the associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
"The Taliban's longstanding failure to punish those responsible for serious abuses in their ranks puts more civilians at risk," she added in the statement.
The Pashtun-based Islamist Taliban is reportedly struggling to effectively control Panjshir, a traditional NRF stronghold and one of the non-Pashtun Afghan provinces.
The report quoted former detainees alleging that Taliban forces detained about 80 residents in Panjshir's Khenj district and beat them to compel them to provide information about the NRF. Out of those, 10 suspects are still being held on charges that their relatives are members of the NRF.
Former detainees were quoted as saying the district jail held nearly 100 others who have alleged links to the NRF and that none had access to their families or lawyers.
"Taliban forces in Panjshir have imposed collective punishment and disregarded protections to which detainees are entitled," Gossman said. "This is just the latest example of Taliban abuses during fighting in the region 10 months after the Taliban took power."
Human Rights Watch stressed that denying detainees access to lawyers and relatives is prohibited and increases the risk of abuses. The punishment of individuals for alleged actions of others is a violation of the laws of war and a war crime, the report warned.
Taliban authorities have consistently rejected reports of fighting and accusations of abuses in Panjshir as baseless media propaganda, insisting their return to power has brought stability and ended years of war in Afghanistan.
In a statement issued Thursday in response to allegations of rights abuses against prisoners by members of the intelligence service, the Taliban claimed that "criminals are being treated strictly in line with the principles of the sacred religion of Islam."
The NRF, headed by the self-exiled Ahmad Massoud, is the principal armed opposition group in Panjshir and neighboring northern Afghan provinces. It includes some fighters who had served in the former U.S.-trained national security forces of the Western-backed Afghan government overthrown by the Taliban nearly 10 months ago.