Increasing Demands for Taliban to Release Activist for Girls' Education

March 30, 2023 : Advocates are calling for the release of Matiullah Wesa, the founder and president of Pen Path, a local NGO that travels across Afghanistan with a mobile school and library, after Taliban security forces arrested him in Kabul on Monday. Wesa has been vocal about his demand for girls to have the right to attend school and has called on the Taliban-led government to reverse its bans on female education. Since their takeover of Afghanistan, the Taliban have imposed restrictions on women’s and minority rights, with girls being barred from school beyond the sixth grade and women being banned from universities last year.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed sadness over Wesa’s arrest. The US Charge d’Affaires for Afghanistan, Karen Decker, said she was disturbed by “multiple, disturbing reports” of peaceful protesters being detained to support their aspirations. However, Abdul Haq Humad, the director of publications at the Ministry of Information and Culture, defended the detention, saying that Wesa’s actions were “suspicious” and that the system had the right to ask him for an explanation.

Reports indicate that Taliban security forces surrounded Wesa’s family home, beat family members, and confiscated Wesa’s mobile phone. Social media activists have created a hashtag campaign calling for Wesa’s release, with many posts condemning his detention and demanding his immediate freedom.

Wesa and others from Pen Path have been campaigning for girls’ education for 14 years, and during the past 18 months, they launched a door-to-door campaign to eliminate illiteracy and end all miseries. However, the Taliban’s actions make it difficult for advocates to continue their work and for girls to access education beyond the sixth grade.