Taliban Arrest Prominent Afghan Campaigner for Girls’ Education

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A prominent advocate for girls’ education in Afghanistan, Matiullah Wesa, has been arrested by the Taliban, who have been accused of clamping down on women’s rights since taking control of the country in August 2021. The 30-year-old campaigner, who has received threats in the past, was taken into custody by the militants as he left a mosque in the capital, Kabul, on Monday. Wesa has spent years travelling across Afghanistan to improve access to education for all children through his charity, PenPath.

The network he founded has more than 2,400 volunteers across the country, and he has travelled to hundreds of districts to promote education. The Taliban have not given a reason for his arrest, but his house was also raided, and his brothers were briefly detained. His detention follows that of other activists who have campaigned for women’s education, including Prof Ismail Mashal, who was arrested in February while handing out free books. The UN has called on the Taliban to clarify Wesa’s whereabouts and the reasons for his detention. The militants have banned girls from attending secondary schools, and only boys and male teachers were allowed to return to classrooms when they reopened in September 2021. In March 2022, the Taliban announced that girls would be allowed to attend secondary schools, but the decision was reversed, and female students were also barred from universities in December 2022. The Taliban say the closures are temporary until a “suitable environment” can be created, but their restrictions have caused widespread condemnation and hindered the work of foreign aid groups.

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