Afghanistan's Taliban have detained 18 staffers, including an American, from a nonprofit group for allegedly preaching Christianity.
The Afghan-based International Assistance Mission (IAM) confirmed Friday that Taliban authorities had twice raided its office in central Ghor province this month and taken away the staff. The charity, registered in Switzerland, said one foreigner was among those detained, but did not reveal that person’s nationality.
"We are unaware of the circumstances that led to these incidents and have not been advised of the reason for the detention of our staff members," an IAM statement said.
"The well-being and security of our colleagues are paramount to us, and we are doing everything possible to ensure their safety and secure their swift release," it said, adding that the detainees have been transferred to the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Local media quoted provincial government spokesman Abdul Wahid Hamas as saying several women, including an American, were among the detainees. They were taken into custody on charges of "propagating and promoting Christianity" in Afghanistan, he added.
The IAM says on its website that the nonprofit group has been working in Afghanistan only to improve lives and build local health, community development and education capacity. "We are a partnership between the people of Afghanistan and international Christian volunteers, and we have been working together since 1966."
The Taliban have imposed their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah, since seizing power from a U.S.-backed Afghan government in Kabul two years ago. They have barred teenage girls from schools beyond the sixth grade nationwide and ordered most female government employees to stay home.
The Taliban have also banned women from working for aid organizations in impoverished Afghanistan. Women are not allowed to visit public parks, gyms or bathhouses, and a close male relative must accompany them for long road trips.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters in New York this week that "the question of the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan is absolutely central to all concerns and will be one of the issues that will be very much in the agenda" of the General Assembly session this month.