Taliban confirm that has arrested the prominent education activist amid calls to allow teenage girls and women back into classrooms.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed confirmed to media that Matiullah Wesa had been detained for what he called “self-serving activities and anti-establishment motivations”.
Wesa is the founder and president of Pen Path — a local non-government group that travels across Afghanistan with a mobile school and library.
A number of Taliban leaders and followers in social media have pointed to Wesa’s meetings with Western officials and rights advocates as proof of his motives.
Earlier, the UN mission in Afghanistan said he was arrested in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Monday.
Local reports said Taliban security forces detained Wesa after he returned from a trip to Europe.
The arrest has been widely condemned at home and abroad. The UN has urged authorities in Kabul to clarify Wesa’s whereabouts, the reasons for his arrest and ensure his access to legal representation and contact with family.
Since their takeover of Afghanistan, the Taliban have imposed restrictions on women’s and minority rights. Girls are barred from school beyond the sixth grade, and women are banned from going to university.
Wesa’s brother, Attaullah Wesa, said in a video message somewhere hidden inside the country that the Taliban forces surrounded their family’s house on Tuesday. They assaulted Wesa’s other two brothers, insulted their mother and confiscated Wesa’s mobile phone.
Afghans inside the country and abroad have joined the calls for Wesa’s release, and social media activists have created a hashtag campaign “#FreeWesa”.
Abdul Haq Humad, the director of publications at the Ministry of Information and Culture, defended the detention. “His actions were suspicious and the system has the right to ask such people for an explanation,” he said in a tweet. “It is known that the arrest of an individual caused such widespread reaction that a conspiracy was prevented.”
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-led 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.
Wesa and others from the Pen Path launched a door-to-door campaign to promote girls’ education. “We have been volunteering for 14 years to reach people and convey the message for girls’ education,” Wesa had said in recent posts.
The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, said he was alarmed by Wesa’s detention. “His safety is paramount, and all his legal rights must be respected,” Mr Bennett tweeted.
In a new report released Tuesday, Amnesty International criticized the Taliban for imposing restrictions on women and minority rights since their takeover of Afghanistan in 2021.
Peaceful protesters have faced arbitrary arrests, torture and enforced disappearance while journalists faced arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as torture and other ill-treatment for reporting that was critical of the Taliban, said Amnesty.