Pakistan's youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai, has urged the Taliban government to release Matiullah Wesa, an education activist who was recently arrested in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Wesa had been running mobile schools and libraries in Afghanistan to provide education to both boys and girls, making his detainment all the more alarming to Malala.
The outspoken education advocate, who herself survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban in 2012, spoke out against Wesa's arrest, calling it an assault on education. Malala's call to release Wesa highlights the ongoing struggle for the right to education in Afghanistan, particularly for girls and young women particularly in the face of Taliban rule.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Malala criticised the Taliban's ban on girls' education and their arrest of education champions like Wesa. She urged the Taliban to release him and all those who have been imprisoned for educating children.
According to Wesa's brother, the 30-year-old education activist had been receiving threats for some time due to his activities for Afghan girls' education under his organisation, PenPath. His house was also reportedly raided during his arrest, although the government has not provided details on the incident.
Wesa was one of the most prominent education activists in Afghanistan, campaigning for girls' right to study since the Taliban barred female education in 2021. On the day of his arrest, he had tweeted a photo of women volunteers for PenPath asking for Islamic rights to education for their daughters.
Wesa was reportedly stopped by a group of men in two vehicles after finishing his prayers at a mosque. When he asked for their identity cards, they beat him and forcibly took him away, according to his brother.
Afghanistan remains a challenging environment for women and girls, with many still facing discrimination, violence, and limited access to modern education and employment opportunities.
AFP adds: The organisation Matiullah founded — which campaigns for schools and distributes books in rural areas — has long dedicated itself to communicating the importance of girls’ education to village elders.
Since the ban on secondary schools for girls, Wesa has continued visiting remote areas to drum up support from locals.
“We are counting hours, mins and seconds for the opening of girls’ schools. The damage that closure of schools causes is irreversible and undeniable,” he tweeted last week as the new school year started in Afghanistan.
“We held meetings with locals and we will continue our protest if the schools remain closed.”
The Taliban stormed back to power in August 2021 after the withdrawal of US and NATO forces that backed the previous governments.
Taliban leaders — who have also banned women from university — have repeatedly claimed they will reopen schools for girls once certain conditions have been met.
They say they lack the funds and time to remodel the syllabus along Islamic lines.
Taliban authorities made similar assurances during their first stint in power — from 1996 to 2001 — but girls’ schools never opened in five years.
The order against girls’ education is believed to have been made by Afghanistan’s supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada and his ultra-conservative aides, who are deeply sceptical of modern education — especially for women.
As well as sparking international outrage, it has stirred criticism from within the movement, with some senior officials in the Kabul government as well as many rank-and-file members against the decision.
In deeply conservative and patriarchal Afghanistan, attitudes to girls’ education have been slowly changing in rural areas, where the advantages are being recognised.