KABUL: An education activist who campaigned for girls’ access to schools in Afghanistan has been detained by Taliban authorities in Kabul, his brothers and the United Nations said Tuesday.

The Taliban government barred girls from attending secondary school and then university last year, making Afghanistan the only country in the world to issue such restrictions on education.

Matiullah Wesa, the founder of PenPath, was stopped by men outside a mosque after prayers on Monday evening, his brother Samiullah Wesa said. “When Matiullah asked for their identity cards, they beat him and forcefully took him away,” he said.

“He has been arrested for his activities in the education sector. He never worked with anybody else, neither with the previous government. He only worked for PenPath.”

PenPath campaigns for schools and distributes books in rural areas, and has for more than a decade dedicated itself to communicating the importance of education to elders in rural villages, helping to reopen schools for girls and boys closed because of violence and establish libraries.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, expressed alarm at Matiullah Wesa’s arrest: “His safety is paramount & all his legal rights must be respected.”

Rights group Amnesty International called for his release. “Since taking power in August 2021, the Taliban as de facto authorities have arbitrarily arrested, detained and tortured people who peacefully demanded protection of their rights,” Amnesty said on Twitter.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2023

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