HELMAND -- The Taliban have been harassing, abducting and torturing members of the People's Peace Movement in an attempt to prevent them from spreading their message of peace, say members of the movement.
The movement, also known as the Helmand Peace Convoy, attracted international attention last year when it walked across Afghanistan to urge the Taliban to join peace talks with the Afghan government.
The movement began as a 50-day sit-in in Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand Province, after a deadly bombing there in March 2018.
Sayed Rahim Omid, a member of the People's Peace Movement and resident of the Chah Anjir area in Helmand Province, described nine days of torture in Taliban captivity.
The Taliban abducted Omid on August 11 and released him August 20 after his uncle and father gave assurances in writing to the militants that Omid would not rejoin the movement.
"They fastened me with chains," he said. "They beat me brutally on the second day of my detention and asked me not to ... participate in the People's Peace Movement."
"The Taliban told me that I shouldn't visit [members of the] People's Peace Movement or speak with them on the phone," he said.
To secure his release, Omid also provided written assurances promising the Taliban that he would not return to his peace activities.
But after receiving medical treatment in Kabul for injuries inflicted by the Taliban, Omid rejoined the People's Peace Movement and spoke publicly about his ordeal.
Last week, the Taliban detained Omid's father in Helmand Province after they found out Omid spoke to the media in Kabul about his torture and detention. They freed his father a day later after local residents protested against the Taliban.
Attempting to silence calls for peace
This is not the first case of Taliban harassment of the group, said Bismillah Watandost, a spokesperson for the People's Peace Movement.
"Before this, some other members were also physically and mentally tortured [by the Taliban]," he said.
"The Taliban detained another member [of the movement] ... in Paktia Province for a month," Watandost said. "A few days before that, the Taliban had abducted a blind member of the peace movement ... and threatened him with a [gun] in Lashkargah's Ainak area."
"Likewise, the Taliban have put [People's Peace Movement members] ... in Ghazni and some other members in their respective areas under house arrest," he said.
"A while back, the Taliban had summoned a member of the People's Peace Movement ... in Zabul Province and warned him that he should leave the movement," Watandost added.
Members of the movement did not previously disclose these incidents of harassment by the Taliban to the media because they did not want to damage the ongoing peace talks, said Watandost.
"We can no longer tolerate the situation and the Taliban's harassment," he said.
'Do not trust the Taliban'
Muhammad Karim Atal, a member of the Wolesi Jirga from Helmand Province, condemned the Taliban's actions against peace activists.
"We criticise the crimes the Taliban have perpetrated against the members of the People's Peace Movement, and we consider them a breach of human and sharia principles," he said. "The Taliban are the enemies of peace and puppets of foreigners, and this is why they harass those who seek peace and work for it."
Atal called on the Taliban to escape the influence of foreign entities and choose the path of peace.
"I call on the Taliban not to remain slaves anymore to the foreigners," he said. "Come and work alongside your brothers for your country's prosperity. You have continued your enmity with every single Afghan -- civilians and security forces. This proves your ignorance and stupidity."
"The Taliban have proved again that they are spies for foreigners and that they do what their masters tell them to do," said Atta Jan Haqbayan, a member of the Zabul Provincial Council. "We condemn their brutalities against the People's Peace Movement, and we call on the international community and the Afghan government not to trust these terrorist Taliban."
"The Taliban always target civilians," he said. "They have never done anything that made the public happy."
"The People's Peace Movement is the voice of our poor Afghan nation. Peace is a message from Allah, but unfortunately these miserable people show clear enmity even against Islam," he added.
"The Taliban lie and say they want to make peace," said Haqbayan. "The Taliban are the enemies of peace and security. No one should trust them."