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Afghanistan:Taliban increase crackdown on girls' education

Khudai Noor Nasar in Kabul
October 30, 2023

The Taliban have released Matiullah Wesa, who had been imprisoned for advocating for girls' rights to education. However, the militants are expanding the oppression of women and girls in Afghanistan.

Afghan activist Matiullah Wesa addresses a group of children seated on the ground
Matiullah Wesa addresses a group of children in Kandahar province in 2022Image: Siddiqullah Khan/AP Photo/picture alliance

Last week, the Taliban released Matiullah Wesa, who had advocated for girls' rights to an education, after seven months behind bars.

It was not yet clear as to why the Taliban released Wesa, and he has not spoken with the media.

Attaullah Wesa, Matiullah's brother, told DW that the Taliban had raided the family's home in March, around the time Matiullah was arrested while leaving a mosque in Kabul. The brother said the Taliban had accused Wesa and the family of being involved with "espionage."

After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the hard-line Islamist group began dismantling any semblance of women's and girls' rights that existed in the country.

In 2022, the Taliban barred girls from attending secondary school and university, making Afghanistan one of the world's most restrictive countries when it comes to educating women. The Taliban have claimed they would open schools and universities for girls after arranging segregated classes for girls and boys.

'Propaganda against us'

In 2009, Wesa founded an organization called PenPath, which worked to promote the education of girls, especially in rural and conservative areas of Afghanistan.

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Wesa, who comes from the southern province of Kandahar, said many Afghans who lived in the countryside did not have any access to education.

Both before and after the Taliban takeover, PenPath would hold meetings with tribal elders, help authorities open schools, distribute books and construct mobile libraries across Afghanistan.

When Wesa was arrested, pro-Taliban government social media accounts accused him of "un-Islamic" and "immoral" behavior, which included being photographed eating pomegranates with women.

The late-autumn Pomegranates Festival is a tradition in the Kandahar province.

Wesa and PenPath celebrated the festival in Kabul with male and female volunteers alike. "All those pictures were shared on our social media pages and they took those pictures for propaganda against us," Attaullah Wesa said. 

No Taliban change

Since retaking Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US and international forces in 2021, the Taliban have arrested dozens of activists, academics and journalists.

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Heather Barr, associate director of the women's rights division at Human Rights Watch, told DW that the Taliban clampdown, especially on women and girls, is "ongoing."

"They keep imposing new rights violations," Barr said. She added that the world's attention is currently focused elsewhere and the Taliban "feel very free to continue and deepen their abuses."

"I don't think that we should read into these two releases some kind of change of heart on the part of the Taliban," she said, referring to the recent release of French-Afghan journalist Mortaza Behboudi from jail, as well.

"They are still illegally detaining several women's rights protesters," Barr said. "They should be released, too, immediately." 

Edited by: Wesley Rahn