WASHINGTON, Aug 23 (Reuters) - Conditions for religious freedom in Afghanistan have "drastically deteriorated" since the Taliban seized power last year as the last U.S.-led foreign troops pulled out after 20 years of war, a bipartisan U.S. commission said on Tuesday.
The Sunni Muslim extremists' "harsh enforcement" of their hardline version of Islam "violates the freedom of religion or belief" of a wide range of Afghans, said the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The congressionally created panel issued its report nine days after the Taliban marked a year since they overran Kabul, returning to power almost two decades after their ouster by the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
The report noted that the Taliban pledged to protect all ethnic and religious groups.
Yet, it said, "Religious freedom conditions in Afghanistan have drastically deteriorated," with the militants reintroducing "harsh restrictions on all Afghans" based on their hardline interpretation of Islam.
Those negatively affected include religious minorities, Afghans "with differing interpretations of Islam," women, the LGBTQ community and those who follow no faith, the report said.
The Taliban, the report said, are responsible for the deaths of dozens of Hazaras, an ethnic minority that follows Shiite Islam, and failed to protect them from attacks by the regional branch of Islamic State, a Taliban rival.
They re-established a ministry that includes morality police who have targeted women by enforcing a strict code of dress and behavior, including covering their faces, and limited their movement, education, participation in sports and right to work, it said.
The Taliban and Islamic State have both targeted sufis, practitioners of mystical Islam, it said.
"The Taliban's seizure of Afghanistan has led to a rapid decline and near extinction of the already small Afghan Hindu and Sikh communities" and the militants deny "the existence of a Christian community," which must worship in hiding, the report added.
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