The Taliban has arrested a key advocate for girls’ rights, hours after he tweeted saying that girls have the right to education.
Matiullah Wesa, the founder of Pen Path, an organisation that campaigns for girls' education and distributes books in rural areas of Afghanistan, was arrested on Monday evening. The United Nations’ Mission in Afghanistan confirmed his arrest.
Since seizing Kabul in 2021, the Taliban has cracked down on education for girls, practically banning girls in Afghanistan from attending high school and university. Wesa's arrest is the latest example of the group's repressive rule in the country.
Wesa has remained active in Afghanistan despite the threat, advocating for education for girls. He expressed disappointment after the Taliban failed to open the doors of schools for girls at the start of the new academic year last week.
Just hours before his arrest, Wesa tweeted, “Men, women, elderly, young, everyone from every corner of the country are asking for the Islamic rights to education of their daughters.”
The UN mission in Afghanistan has called on the authorities in Kabul to disclose Wesa's whereabouts in a tweet on Tuesday.
Education for girls has been a longstanding issue in Afghanistan. Despite endemic levels of corruption by successive governments backed by the US-led coalition, the number of girls receiving education has risen from almost zero to around 2.5 million, according to UNESCO reports.
The Taliban has banned girls from attending school beyond the sixth grade, where students are aged 11-12, and closed the doors of universities to women. The group has yet to officially state whether girls will be banned from education indefinitely, as was the case during the Islamists' five-year rule in the late 1990s.
Despite disagreements among senior Taliban leaders on allowing girls back into schools, some see it jeopardising the chances of the government being recognised internationally and avoiding isolation that could worsen the economic meltdown since August 2021.
Some Taliban leaders have openly called on the group to change its policy and let girls back to school, the senior hardliners of the Islamist group persist in denying an education to girls, including the Taliban leaders from Kandahar, including acting Prime Minister, Hibatullah Akhundzada.
Richard Bennett, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Afghanistan, wrote in a tweet that Wesa's arrest was “alarming” and called for his “safety” and for “all his legal rights to be respected.”