'I'm just trying to survive'
Updated 7:28 AM ET, Sun October 10, 2021
(CNN)His messages are a mix of uncertainty and terror -- with glimmers of hope.
He is gay, a convert to Christianity and a member of the Hazara ethnic minority -- three groups that have been historically persecuted by the Taliban.
The 32-year-old man went into hiding after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in August, cutting off communication with family back home and holing up in a Kabul basement with his younger brother. They spent their days reading and praying and venturing outside only for food.
With phones their sole connection to the outside world, he and his brother sent messages. Lots of messages. To activists and human rights organizations. To friends of friends who knew anyone who could help.
Their biggest fear: meeting a deadly fate at the hands of the Taliban, as their father did years ago.
"They will behead us or kill us in the most brutal way," the older brother told CNN. "They are masters in that."
CNN verified the man's identity through human rights activists and has been messaging with him via WhatsApp since August. To protect his safety, CNN is identifying him only as Ahmed -- not his real name.
Days in the basement turned into weeks filled with dread and isolation. At times Ahmed felt so hopeless he contemplated suicide.
Then, late last month, came word of a possible escape route.
In a series of recent WhatsApp messages, Ahmed chronicled his life in the shadows in Kabul, his deep-rooted fear of the Taliban and his scramble to flee a country he's called home all his life.
He first fled to Kabul for his safety
It was early August. The newly emboldened Taliban was seizing control of cities across Afghanistan, and Ahmed could feel the terror in the air.
He began to worry that someone in the northwestern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where he and his brother lived, would out him to the Taliban.
So on August 12, the siblings packed their bags in a rush and took a bus to Kabul.
The brothers are among the nation's estimated 10,000 to 12,000 Christians, an overwhelming majority of them converts from Islam. Afghan Christians largely practice their faith in secret, because leaving Islam is considered punishable by death under the Taliban's interpretation of Sharia law.
Ahmed felt he'd be safer as a gay man in the sprawling Afghan capital. But three days after their arrival, Kabul fell to the Taliban.
Ahmed was well aware of the Taliban's treatment of minorities in Afghanistan.
In public statements in July, one Taliban judge said there were only two punishments for homosexuality -- stoning or being crushed under a toppled wall. A recent investigation by Amnesty International found Taliban forces in late August executed 13 Hazaras, most of whom were members of the Afghan National Security Forces.
He tried to hide his features in public
Many Hazaras have east and central Asian features -- lighter skin color and distinctively shaped eyes -- that set them apart from most Afghans. The ethnic group largely practices Shia Islam.
So Ahmed wore traditional clothes and a turban. A medical mask covered his sparse facial hair. Sunglasses obscured his eyes -- and any eye contact with Taliban soldiers.
But in the beginning, he wasn't always careful. One day in August, he was stopped by the Taliban for wearing a baseball cap. They yanked it off his head and demanded to know why he was wearing a "hip hop" hat, he said.
The brothers tried to avoid public places. They hid in a tiny room off a back alley in a densely populated part of Kabul, where they slept on the floor with the windows covered.
Every time they heard noises outside, Ahmed said "we would sit in the dark, totally motionless, afraid to move a muscle."
Michael Failla, a Seattle-based human rights activist who has been helping the brothers, said he got panicked calls from Ahmed in the dead of night.
"There was a time he called me sobbing and said he'd heard the Taliban was going door to door in the neighborhood," Failla said.
"He was threatening to jump off a building because he thought it would be a less painful way to die than getting caught and beheaded by the Taliban as a gay man."