UN says prominent Afghan girls’ education activist arrested

Matiullah Wesa of the Pen Path NGO that travels across Afghanistan with a mobile school and library has been arrested in Kabul, says UN mission.

Matiullah Wesa
In this May 17, 2022 photo, Wesa speaks to children during a class next to his mobile library in Spin Boldak district of Afghanistan's Kandahar province [File: Sanaullah Seiam/AFP]

The United Nations says a prominent Afghan girls’ education activist has been arrested in Kabul and called on Taliban authorities to clarify the reason for his detention.

“Matiullah Wesa, head of [Pen Path] and advocate for girls’ education, was arrested in Kabul [on] Monday,” the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement on Tuesday.

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

Spokespeople for the Taliban administration’s information ministry and intelligence agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment or confirm the detention.

Wesa, who comes from the southern province of Kandahar, has for years advocated for girls’ education, particularly in rural areas, including during the tenure of the previous Western-backed foreign government when he said many girls living in the countryside were not reached by education services.

His organisation, Pen Path, has held meetings with tribal elders, encouraged communities and authorities to open schools, and disbursed books and mobile libraries.

Local reports said Taliban security forces arrested Wesa after his return from a trip to Europe.

The Taliban administration has barred girls from school beyond the sixth grade and women from universities, saying there are perceived problems including around female Muslim dress.

Officials have said they are undertaking work to reopen schools but have not given a time frame.

They say they respect women’s rights in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic law and Afghan custom and that the improved security in the country since foreign forces left has made it safer for many young children to go to school.

Wesa has been outspoken in his demands for girls to have the right to go to school and learn, and has repeatedly called on the Taliban government to reverse its bans.

His most recent tweets about female education coincided with the start of the new academic year in Afghanistan, with girls remaining shut out of classrooms and campuses.

“The damage that closure of schools causes is irreversible and undeniable. We held meetings with locals and we will continue our protest if the schools remain closed,” he tweeted last week.

“Men, women, elderly, young, everyone from every corner of the country are asking for the Islamic rights to education of their daughters,” he said in another tweet, hours before he was arrested.

The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, said he was alarmed by Wesa’s detention.

“His safety is paramount & all his legal rights must be respected,” Bennett tweeted.

Source: News Agencies