Call on the Taliban to free the girls’ education activist

ISLAMABAD — Calls for the Taliban to release a girls’ education activist arrested in Kabul earlier this week increased on Wednesday as a minister in the Taliban-led government defended the detention.

Matiullah Wesa, founder and president of Pen Path – a local NGO that tours Afghanistan with a mobile school and library – was arrested in the Afghan capital on Monday.

Since taking over Afghanistan, the Taliban have restricted the rights of women and minorities. Girls are not allowed to go to school after sixth grade, and last year the Taliban banned women from attending universities.

Wesa openly demands that girls have the right to go to school and learn, and has repeatedly called on the Taliban-led government to reverse its bans. His recent tweets coincided with the start of the new academic year in Afghanistan, when girls continued to be excluded from classrooms and universities.

Late Tuesday, US chargé d’affaires for Afghanistan Karen Decker said she was concerned by “several, disturbing reports” of Afghans being arrested while peacefully protesting their efforts.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he was saddened by the news of Wesa’s arrest.

According to local reports, Taliban security forces arrested Wesa after he returned from a trip to Europe. The Taliban authorities have not confirmed his arrest, whereabouts or the reasons for his arrest.

Abdul Haq Humad, Director of Publications at the Ministry of Information and Culture, defended the detention.

“His actions were suspicious and the system has every right to ask such people for an explanation,” he said in a tweet on Tuesday. “It is well known that the arrest of an individual provoked such widespread reactions that a conspiracy was prevented.”

Wesa’s brother, Attaullah Wesa, said Taliban forces surrounded the family’s home on Tuesday, beating family members and confiscating Matiullah’s mobile phone.

Social media activists created a hashtag to promote Matiullah Wesa’s release. Many posts condemned his detention and called for the activist’s immediate release.

Wesa and others from the Pen Path started a door-to-door campaign to promote girls’ education. “We’ve been volunteering for 14 years to reach people and spread the message for girls’ education,” Wesa said in recent social media posts. “During the last 18 months we have fought from house to house to eradicate illiteracy and end all our misery.”

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