On 23 July, two men joined the crowd of thousands of Afghanistan’s Hazara marching in protest through the streets of Kabul. They wore suicide vests under billowing .
The Hazara protest was, ostensibly, in response to the Afghan government’s decision to divert a promised power transmission line from Bamiyan – a Hazara enclave, where it would have brought jobs, economic growth and, most fundamentally, electricity – to another area of the country further north. But the demonstration, and the power line’s diversion, was aimed too at a broader discrimination Hazaras say they suffer in .
The two men wearing suicide vests at the demonstration – Islamic State militants – detonated their devices as the protest reached Deh Mazang square. More than 80 protestors were killed – recent reports say at least 97 – and more than 230 injured, in the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital in 15 years. Isis’s media agency Amaq confirmed the Hazara religious and ethnic minority were specifically targeted, saying the .
To mark the 40th day since the attack, on Thursday the Hazaras’ “enlightening” movement will launch a Twitter campaign to bring to global attention what they describe as “systematic discrimination against the Hazaras”.
From 3pm Thursday in Kabul, thousands of Hazaras in Afghanistan will launch an online campaign under the hashtag to commemorate those who lost their lives in the tragedy and also to demand justice, equality and better services for the Hazaras. Simultaneously, commemorations are being held in Kabul and around the world. The online campaign has been in planning for more than a month. Protest organisers have held workshops in Kabul and around the world, and posted videos online to help the unfamiliar use Twitter and Facebook to broadcast their message.
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Dawood Naji, one of the organisers of Kabul protest who travelled to Australia to speak at memorial events organised by , told the Guardian: “The enlightening movement is about systematic discrimination. Every Hazara around the world can relate with this movement because they have experienced discrimination.
“Those who lost their lives in Kabul experience it, others experience it when they apply for a job, when they sit an exam, or request a service or security.”
But a migration agent in Australia, who asked not to be identified for fear of impacting her Hazara clients, said the Australian government has played down the worldwide Hazara protest movement and not acknowledged the attacks in Kabul were targeted at Hazaras because of the ramification for Hazara claims for refugee status in Australia. An estimated 10,000 Hazaras have already settled in Australia.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the agent said, rejects refugee claims on the grounds Kabul is safe for Hazaras to be returned to and views the recent attacks on Hazara in Kabul as “rare” incidents “likely to be considered a one-off”. The department had said the same thing in relation to the in Kabul which killed over 50 people, mostly Hazaras.
Professor William Maley of the Australian National University, who is currently in Kabul, argues the government’s position on the safety of Hazaras in Afghanistan is “completely unsustainable”.
A report on Hazaras in Afghanistan, published by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in February this year, said but that “the threat of conflict-related violence faced by Hazaras is similar to that faced by members of other ethnic groups”.
The persecution of Hazaras was most overt under the rule of the Taliban, but in the decade-and-a-half since, violence has continued, public beheadings of Hazara men, women and children based on their ethnicity are common, as are reports of Hazara being on country roads or out of their homes at gunpoint by militia and murdered. Hazaras say, most fundamentally, they are not safe in their own country.
The Hazaras say they are no longer safe on the streets of Kabul to protest, that the Afghan government can’t provide security, and authorities have actively moved to crush their protest movement.
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On Monday, when the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani travelled to Bamiyan to rename the local airport after a Hazara leader killed by the Taliban, a group of Hazaras took the opportunity to gather in the heart of the city to protest their treatment by the government.
But Afghan security dispersed the protest by rounding up, beating and arresting about 30 protestors. They were detained for 24 hours. The security forces assaulted four journalists and broke cameras to stop them filming the protest, according to a of the incident.
“The political situation in the country is febrile, and the situation for Hazaras extremely dangerous,” Maley told the Guardian.
“If [Isis] was able to strike targets in the heart of the Afghan capital, where the presence of Afghan security forces is relatively strong, it puts on display a commitment to attack on the basis of religious identity, plainly engaging one of the basis of refugee status under the refugee conventions; and it highlights particular dangers for Hazaras.”