Taliban arrest prominent girls’ education activist as crackdown continues | CNN


A prominent activist for girls’ education in Afghanistan was arrested by the Taliban on Monday, according to an official, the latest step in their crackdown on the rights of Afghan women.

Matiullah Wesa, 30, is a well-known activist and founder of PenPath1, a non-governmental organization that travels to the most remote areas of Afghanistan to set up mobile classrooms.

Since the country’s takeover by the hardline Islamist group in August 2021, the Taliban have taken away the hard-won freedoms of women who have fought tirelessly for the past two decades.

Some of the most notable restrictions were on education, as girls were barred from returning to secondary schools and universities, depriving an entire generation of academic opportunities.

Wesa was arrested in the capital Kabul on Monday, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said, and called on the Taliban to clarify his whereabouts.

“UNAMA calls on the de facto authorities to clarify his whereabouts and the reasons for his arrest and to ensure his access to legal representation and contact with his family,” UNAMA tweeted.

Wesa has long campaigned for girls’ education in Afghanistan, particularly in rural areas, and his Twitter account is full of posts calling for schools to be reopened for girls and women.

“Men, women, old, young, everyone from all corners of the country are demanding the Islamic right to education for their daughters,” Wesa said in his last tweet before his arrest.

Two of Wesa’s brothers were also arrested, Attaullah Wesa said in a video posted to Twitter. Attaullah Wesa is another of Wesa’s brothers.

“Samiullah and Wali Muhammad were also arrested,” he said. “They took them and tied their hands.”

Attaullah Wesa, who is now in hiding, said the Taliban insulted her children, her mother and the whole family and took their phones.

“We are the people of the monastery. We’ve been working on it for 15 years and we still don’t back down from it, even if they kill us,” Ataullah Wesa said. “We want a future for this Afghan nation endowed with education, this nation has a right to us.”

Abdul Haq Hammad, a spokesman for the Taliban’s Ministry of Information and Culture, claimed he was unaware of Wesa’s case.

“I don’t know Matiullah Wesa and I don’t know his case, but if actions are suspicious, the government has the right to ask such people for an explanation,” he wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

“And when the arrest of one person evokes such a broad reaction, it shows that a wide-ranging conspiracy has been prevented.”

On Monday, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he was “sad” at the arrest and urged the Taliban to release Wesa “as soon as possible.”

“In various provinces of Afghanistan, they have made great efforts for the education of the country’s children and rendered valuable services,” Karzai said in a statement released on social media.

After his arrest, Wesa’s supporters online called for his release using the hashtags #releasematiullahwesa and #releasematiullahwesaSoon.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize, called for his release and said Wesa’s NGO had provided “mobile schools and libraries for Afghan girls and boys.”

“While banning girls from going to school, the Taliban are also arresting advocates for education… The Taliban must release him and everyone who is being held for children’s education,” Yousafzai said on Twitter.

Yousafzai gained international recognition for her activism against Taliban efforts to prevent girls from attending school.

When she was 15, she was shot in the head by a Taliban member, but survived the assassination.

Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, called Wesa “an incredible advocate for girls’ education” whose only crime is “his decades-long peaceful campaign for girls’ right to education.”

Earlier this month, young Afghan women gathered outside Kabul University to protest the Taliban’s ban on women’s education as their male peers returned to school for a new academic year.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, told the United Nations in March that the Taliban’s ban on women’s education “could amount to gender-based persecution, a crime against humanity”.

Mahbouba Seraj, Afghan women’s rights activist and 2023 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, told CNN on Wednesday that it was “incredible” that the Taliban would arrest Wesa, who “is doing nothing wrong”.

Seraj said the time had come to deal with the Taliban at some level.

“I know it sounds absolutely awful … We really don’t have a choice,” she said. “I really don’t know how long the country can go on like this. How long we can go on like this, how long the girls can be locked up in Afghanistan and their homes and not be able to do their education, that’s not the right way.”

Source : www.cnn.com

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