Afghan activist Matiullah Wesa’s arrest invokes widespread condemnation

Matiullah Wesa is a prominent education activist and has been running an educational organization  for nearly 14 years

March 30, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Matiullah Wesa arrest
Matiullah Wesa. (Photo: via Social Media)

On Monday, March 27, Taliban authorities detained Matiullah Wesa, a prominent activist who has been advocating for the education of Afghan children since 2009. 

His arrest has invoked widespread condemnation from activists and human rights defenders, with UN Special Rapporteur Richard Bennett calling for his “immediate release.” 

“Alarmed by reports that [Matiullah Wesa] famous educator esp. for [girls], leading civil society member & founder of [Pen Path], has been arrested in Kabul by the Taliban dfA (de facto administration). His safety is paramount & all his legal rights must be respected,” Richard Bennett tweeted

A prominent campaigner and a leading member of Afghan civil society, Matiullah Wesa has been running an educational organization called Pen Path, which has been creating educational opportunities for thousands of girls across Afghanistan by launching libraries and helping to reopen closed schools in rural areas. 

The activist has been locally campaigning and partnering with the elderly in at least 20 of Afghanistan’s 34 districts, in pursuit of distributing education materials and reopening schools.

“We have been volunteering for 14 years to reach people and convey the message for girls’ education. During the past 18 months we campaigned house to house in order to eliminate illiteracy and to end all our miseries,” Matiullah wrote three days before he was arrested. 

His arrest comes amid the beginning of the new year (Nowruz) and a day after a group of women demonstrated against the prolonged ban on education for Afghan women and girls. Taliban security officials dispersed the group by firing in the air and detaining three of them, as reported by Khaama Press.   

Attaullah Wesa, the activist’s brother, was quoted by AFP and Khaama Press saying that Matiullah Wesa was beaten up and then bundled into a vehicle by some unknown men close to their house in the Khoshal Khan area, west of Kabul city. 

Taliban authorities have reportedly rejected Attaullah Wesa’s allegations, and have not yet confirmed that he has been detained.

This is the third consecutive year during which the Taliban has not reopened girls’ schools beyond the sixth grade. 

Earlier, on February 3, another activist, Professor Ismail Mashal, was arrested while distributing free books in Kabul. An outspoken critic of the ban on education for Afghan women, he had risen to prominence after he tore up his degrees during a live telecast show on Tolo News in solidarity with the women of Afghanistan. He was released on March 5.