UN says Afghan girls’ education activist arrested in Kabul


Islamabad (AP) — An Afghan rights activist who has campaigned for girls’ education has been arrested in Kabul, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

The U.N. mission in Afghanistan said Matiullah Wesa, founder and president of Pen Path — a local nongovernmental group that travels across Afghanistan with a mobile school and library — was arrested in the Afghan capital on Monday.

Local reports said Taliban security forces detained Wesa after his return from a trip to Europe.

The U.N. urged authorities in Kabul to clarify Wesa’s whereabouts, reasons for his arrest and ensure his access to legal representation and contact with family. There was no immediate word from the Taliban on the arrest.

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

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 Taliban-led government to reverse its bans. His most recent tweets about female education coincided with the start of the new academic year in Afghanistan, with girls remaining shut out of classrooms and campuses.

The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, said he was alarmed by Wesa’s detention.

“His safety is paramount & all his legal rights must be respected,” Bennett tweeted.

Also Tuesday, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing near the foreign ministry in Kabul the previous day, when six people were killed and about a dozen wounded. It was the second time this year that IS staged an attack near the ministry. In mid-January, the militant group killed five people there and wounded several others.

The regional IS affiliate — known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province — is a key rival of the Taliban and has frequently targeted Taliban officials and patrols, as well as members of Afghanistan’s Shiite minority.

IS has increased its attacks in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover.

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