United Nations officials reported on Tuesday that a well-known human rights activist, who has been fighting for the education of girls in Afghanistan, was taken into custody in Kabul.
Matiullah Wesa, the founder and president of Pen Path, a volunteer organization that focuses on reopening closed schools and establishing libraries in rural areas of Afghanistan, was reportedly detained by Taliban security forces upon his return from a trip to Europe.
According to local media, his brother, Attaullah Wesa, stated that Taliban forces surrounded their family home, insulted their mother, beat his other two brothers, and confiscated Matiullah Wesa’s phone.
The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) confirmed Wesa’s arrest in a tweet early Tuesday morning, calling on “authorities to clarify his whereabouts, the reasons for his arrest and to ensure his access to legal representation and contact with family.”
Earlier this month, the head of UNAMA, Roza Otunbayeva, said in a statement marking International Women’s Day that “Afghanistan under the Taliban remains the most repressive country in the world regarding women’s rights.”
Since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, UNAMA officials have recorded “an almost constant stream of discriminatory edicts and measures against women.”
Girls’ secondary education was suspended in September 2021. That suspension was extended indefinitely in March 2022.
In December of last year, the Taliban government halted educational opportunities for women at the university level.
“It has been distressing to witness their methodical, deliberate, and systematic efforts to push Afghan women and girls out of the public sphere,” Otunbayeva added.
Wesa has been a vocal supporter of girls’ education rights, as evidenced by his recent social media activity. He shared images and videos of Pen Path volunteers holding signs that read “Let girls learn” and “Please reopen girls’ schools.”
“We have been volunteering for 14 years to reach people and convey the message for girls education,” he tweeted on Friday, just days before this arrest. “During the past 18 months we campaigned house to house in order to eliminate illiteracy and to end all our miseries.”
Expressing concern, Richard Bennett, the United Nations’ special rapporteur for human rights in Afghanistan, took to Twitter to state that he was “alarmed” by the detention.
“His safety is paramount & all his legal rights must be respected,” he wrote.