September 27, 2006
KHOST, Afghanistan — A government unit tore down posters of bodybuilders in a southeastern Afghan city Wednesday and has arrested people for selling alcohol and porn, residents and officials said.
The team began operating in the city of Khost Tuesday, they said, and was similar to the Taliban’s “vice and virtue department” that enforced the hardliners’ deeply conservative moral code.
Khost province religious ministry director Mawlavi Aizharudin, who heads the unit, said that it was called the “morals and rules commission” and was made up of police and government officials, including from his ministry.
“We have arrested one Sikh for selling alcohol to Muslims and five other people for possessing and selling porn movies, photos, and having other improper ethics,” Aizharudin said.
On Wednesday the commission took to the streets of Khost, capital of the province, and tore down and trampled posters that advertised bodybuilding clubs and showed muscular men posing in briefs.
The owner of one gym was furious. “We had put up lots of posters in the city and without a prior notice they destroyed them. This is not just,” said Bakhti Gul Mushtaq, owner of Global Gym.
“Two mullah-looking people in turbans and beards started to tear down the posters and look into peoples’ shops for videos today,” a Khost city shopkeeper named Azizullah said. “It reminds me of the Taliban vice and virtue.”
Aizharudin said that the committee aimed to rid the city of “porn and immoral videos, pictures, and actions” and had permission from the government to do so.
But the central government, which is establishing a “vice and virtue” unit that it says will be nothing like the Taliban one, said that it was not aware of the Khost team. “This may be a decision of the provincial authorities. It has nothing to do with our ministry,” deputy minister Sulaiman Hamid said.
The “Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice” unit that operated under the 1996-2001 Taliban regime was notorious for whipping women who left their homes without a male relative, and jailing men who trimmed their beards or failed to pray in a mosque five times a day.