Article seven of the constitution commits the state to abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and other international treaties and conventions to which the country is a party. Articles 18 and 19 of the UDHR, taken together, effectively declare that it is a universal human right to engage in religious proselytism.
Under the rule of the Taliban Islamist Muslim government, the freedom to choose and openly practice one's own religion did not exist in Afghanistan. In the years prior to the Taliban takeover, characterized by prolonged war and the absence of a constitution, the extent of religious freedom depended on what faction controlled a particular area. Once the Taliban assumed power, however, there was no religious freedom at all.
In 1999, the Taliban wrote a new constitution based on their conservative interpretation of Sharia. Under this constitution, Atheism was punishable by death, as was Apostasy, which was defined to include conversion to another faith such as Judaism or Christianity.
The Taliban imposed its interpretation of Islamic law, establishing a "Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice" for purposes of enforcement. One of the Ministry's duties was to operate a body of religious police who enforced edicts on dress code, employment, access to medical care, behavior, religious practice, and expression. Persons found to be in violation of an edict were often subject to punishment meted out on the spot, which included beatings and detention.
The Taliban persecuted members of other Islamic sects as well as non-Muslims. Traditionally, Sunni Islam of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence has been the dominant form of Islam in Afghanistan. This school counts the Taliban among its followers. The Deoband madrassa (religious school) near Delhi, India, has been a source of influence for these Sunni for approximately 200 years. Most of the Taliban leadership attended Deobandi-influenced seminaries in Pakistan. The Deoband school has long sought to "purify" Islam by discarding supposedly un-Islamic accretions to the faith and reemphasizing the models established in the Qur'an and Hadith. Deobandi scholars often have opposed what they perceive as Western influences. Much of the population adheres to Deobandi-influenced Hanafi Sunnism, but a sizable minority adheres to a more mystical version of Hanafi Sunnism generally known as Sufism. Sufism centers on orders or brotherhoods that follow charismatic religious leaders.
The Shi'a, under the Taliban, were among the most economically disadvantaged groups in the country. An ethnic group known as the Hazara is predominantly Shi'a Muslim. There also are small numbers of Ismailis living in the central and northern parts of the country. Ismailis are Shi'a Muslims, but consider the Aga Khan their spiritual leader.
In the past, small communities of Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Christians also lived in the country; however, most members of these communities have left. Even at their peak, these non-Muslim minorities constituted only one percent of the population. Almost all members of the country's small Hindu and Sikh population, which once numbered about 50,000, have emigrated or taken refuge abroad. Non-Muslims such as Hindus and Sikhs now number only in the hundreds, often working as traders. The few Christians and Jews who live in the country are mostly foreigners who are in the country to carry-out relief work on behalf of foreign non-governmental organization (NGOs).
On August 3, 2001 Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer were arrested by the Taliban along with 22 others for their work with Shelter Now, a Christian aid organization based in Germany. The Taliban also seized Bibles and videos and audio tapes from the members of the group. The workers were tried for violating the Taliban prohibition against proselytizing. On November 15, 2001 Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer were freed by Operation Enduring Freedom forces, after the Taliban had fled Kabul.
The Taliban have been accused of committing mass killings of the Hazaras particularly in the north. It has been claimed that the Taliban massacred thousands of civilians and prisoners during and after the capture of Mazar-i-Sharif in August 1998; this massacre reportedly was aimed at ethnic Hazaras. In September 1998, approximately 500 persons were killed as the Taliban gained control of the city of Bamiyan. The Hazaras regained control of Bamiyan in April 1999 following prolonged guerilla-style warfare; however, the Taliban recaptured Bamiyan in May 1999 and reportedly killed a number of Shi'a residents.
In January 2001, several NGO's reported that the Taliban massacred several hundred Shi'a civilians in Yakaolang in the center of the country. The massacre reportedly occurred after the Taliban recaptured the area from opposition forces. According to witnesses interviewed by HRW, after the Taliban recaptured the area, they rounded up victims from the surrounding villages, and shot or stabbed them with bayonets in the town center.
Besides claims of genocide, there are claims of forced expulsions of ethnic Hazaras and Tajiks from areas controlled or conquered by the Taliban, as well as harassment of these minorities throughout Taliban-controlled areas.