Members of a women’s soccer team in Afghanistan are speaking out about the horrible sexual and psychological abuse they suffered, reportedly at the hands of their league executives, including the president of the Afghan Football Federation himself.

And his most effective method of keeping victims silent was to label them lesbians.

To silence the victims, some of whom were as young as 16 years old, the abusers reportedly put a gun to one player’s head, threatened to kill another’s family and cut off the tongue of one more. They also were said to have used the country’s rampant homophobia as its most powerful weapon: AFF president Keramuddin Karim publicly accused two players of being lesbians, after raping them, reported ThinkProgress.

Being gay isn’t specifically a crime in Afghanistan. But living and loving openly is against the law, according to Equaldex. Since 1976, acts of homosexuality are punishable with lengthy prison sentences, and in some areas still under Taliban control, by death. But throughout Afghanistan, “honor killings” are legal, so for all practical purposes, the death penalty applies because most Afghans view homosexuality as a criminal offense punishable by death. Even members of the mostly underground LGBTQ community believe this to be so.

The players first spoke exclusively but anonymously to Guardian reporter Suzanne Wrack, in December. They detailed their experiences of sexual and psychological abuse at the hands of Karim and other AFF executives.

Former Afghanistan team captain Khalida Popal claims the president has a bed inside his office and that only Karim’s fingerprint can open the door, meaning once a player enters the room they cannot leave without his permission, according to

An investigation was ordered and Karim and four other members of the AFF were suspended by the nation’s Attorney General, following the reports by the Guardian. FIFA said it was looking into the claims as well, and suspended Karim in December for 90 days, declaring the suspension “may be extended pending proceedings.”

Those 90 days are almost up, and as reports, the AFF has dismissed the allegations as “groundless.”

Karim appealed his suspension but that was denied last month. Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has since ordered a wider investigation into the women’s claims.

Human Rights Watch has now joined the call for Afghan authorities to “fully investigate and appropriately prosecute the sexual assault claims.”

”Afghan authorities, as a critical step in ending violence against women in public life, need to act decisively and fully prosecute all those responsible for crimes against members of the Afghan women’s football team,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at HRW.

Afghan investigators are set to visit Europe and Canada as part of their investigation.