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Calls mount for Taleban to free girls’ education activist

ISLAMABAD (AP) – Calls mounted yesterday for the Taleban to free a girls’ education activist arrested earlier this week in Kabul, as a government minister defended the detention.

Founder and president of Pen Path Matiullah Wesa- a local nongovernmental group that travels across Afghanistan with a mobile school and library – was arrested in the Afghan capital on Monday.

Since their takeover of Afghanistan, the Taleban imposed restrictions on women’s and minority rights. Girls are barred from school beyond the sixth grade and last year, the Taleban banned women from going to universities.

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 Taleban-led government to reverse its bans.

His most recent tweets coincided with the start of the new academic year in Afghanistan, with girls remaining shut out of classrooms and campuses.

Girls attend class on the first day of the new school year in Kabul, Afghanistan. PHOTO: AP

On Tuesday, United States (US) charge d’affaires for Afghanistan Karen Decker said she was disturbed by “multiple, disturbing reports” of Afghans being detained while peacefully protesting in support of their aspirations.

Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai said he was saddened to hear of Wesa’s arrest.

Local reports said Taleban security forces detained Wesa after his return from a trip to Europe. Taleban authorities have not confirmed his detention, whereabouts or reasons for the arrest.

Director of publications at the Ministry of Information and Culture Abdul Haq Humad defended the detention. “His actions were suspicious and the system has the right to ask such people for an explanation,” he said on Tuesday in a tweet.

“It is known that the arrest of an individual caused such widespread reaction that a conspiracy was prevented.”

Wesa’s brother said Taleban forces surrounded the family home on Tuesday, saying they beat family members and confiscated the arrested activist’s mobile phone.

Social media activists created a hashtag to campaign for Wesa’s release. Many posts condemned his detention and demanded immediate freedom for the activist.

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 said in recent social media posts.

“During the past 18 months we campaigned house-to-house in order to eliminate illiteracy and to end our miseries.”

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