Khalida Popal describes suffering, depression and torture in Iranian prison

When the Taliban seized the western city of Herat in May, they set off a chain of events that would prove devastating for Afghanistan. In the meantime, fighters loyal to the radical Islamist militia kidnapped former soccer champion Khalida Popal and imprisoned her for nine months.

Popal, 42, was named the first female captain of Afghanistan’s national soccer team in 2004, before transitioning into an international actress and a television presenter. In 2012, Popal starred in the Hollywood film “Zero Dark Thirty,” in which she portrayed the love interest of a character played by Jessica Chastain. Today, she’s one of several prominent Afghan women who are back home in Kabul after spending years in an Iranian prison over charges of desecrating the Koran. There she said the experiences she encountered could’ve easily been induced by war, had it not been for the lifting of Iran’s own human rights laws.

More than a dozen journalists and staff members from the German magazine Stern visited Popal during their trip to Kabul on Sept. 13. In an exclusive interview with The Times, Popal described what it was like to be detained, and where her nightmares are now.

Khalida Popal said “in my nightmares they dragged me inside the [mosque’s] courtyard, blindfolded me and said if I disobeyed, they would kill me”. “Sometimes I just cry over and over again and cry out ‘it’s all over’. My nightmares are really scary,” she added. “If I couldn’t sleep, they’d come and grab me.”

For the first time since she was released, Popal told The Times that the Taliban had her hand over after discovering she was an American citizen. She was convicted of making a video entitled “Marriage.” When asked why she’d made the video, she had only one reply: “Because women are oppressed here, so why not?”

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