The Taliban have ordered a series of mannequin beheadings, telling clothes shops to remove the heads of dummies that offend Islam.
The instructions were given by the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in the western Afghan province of Herat.
Aziz Rahman, the head of the local department of the ministry, described the mannequins as “statues” and claimed that they were being worshipped, which is prohibited under Islam.
Despite shopkeepers’ pleas that they needed their dummies, Rahman said he “ordered that they [the mannequins] should have their heads removed” and warned there would be severe punishment if they violated the ruling.
Local businesses, already struggling in the floundering economy, criticised the Taliban’s decision. “We use the mannequins to display clothes,” said Aziz Ahmad Haidar, a garment seller. Mehran Azizi, a resident of Herat, added that mannequins were used to display clothes in all countries, “including Islamic countries”.
The virtue and vice ministry is the state agency in charge of implementing the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law and was reinstated soon after they seized power in Kabul. It was responsible for the particularly harsh treatment of women and was ironically brought back in place of the Ministry for Women’s Affairs.
The ministry, which has said that it will continue to amputate thieves’ limbs, has already resumed public hangings and displayed several headless corpses of hastily convicted kidnappers in market squares.
In the 90s ministry officials regularly beat men who had “short” beards and both men and women who did not wear “sufficiently modest clothing”. There have been several reports that they are trying to reintroduce a similar code.
The Taliban also ordered images of women to be removed from outside shops, malls and business centres in Kabul.
“Photos that are against Islamic regulations will be collected or removed from billboards,” said Nematullah Barakzai, the spokesman of Kabul municipality.
Critics said it was another attempt to remove women from public life as beauty shops using signboards with female models are often run by women.
“This is imposing a restriction on women’s work,” said Shayesta Saifi. The make-up artist, who supports her family with her earnings, feared it was a precursor to the group shutting down her shop.
Parwana, a women’s rights activist also hit out at the move, saying: “What does it benefit the government to remove photos of women?”