KABUL -- The founder of a project that campaigned for girls' education in Afghanistan has been detained in Kabul, his family and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said Tuesday (March 28).
Matiullah Wesa, the director of PenPath, was stopped by men outside a mosque in Kabul after prayers on Monday evening, his brother Samiullah Wesa told AFP.
"When Matiullah asked for their identity cards, they beat him and forcibly took him away," he said.
"He has been arrested for his activities in the education sector. He never worked with anybody else, neither with the previous government. He worked only for PenPath."
Another brother, Attaullah Wesa, tweeted Tuesday morning that the family's house had been surrounded by security forces, his two brothers beaten and his mother threatened. Matiullah's phone and laptop were confiscated.
UNAMA confirmed Wesa's arrest and called on the authorities "to clarify his whereabouts, the reasons for his arrest and to ensure his access to legal representation and contact with family".
Determined to educate girls
Girls have been banned from attending secondary school and university for over a year, making Afghanistan the only country in the world to issue such restrictions on education.
PenPath campaigns for schools and distributes books in rural areas, and has long dedicated itself to communicating the importance of girls' education to elders in villages, where attitudes have been slowly changing.
Since the ban on secondary schools for girls, Wesa has continued visiting remote areas to drum up support from locals.
"Men, women, elderly, young, everyone from every corner of the country are asking for the Islamic rights to education of their daughters," he said in a tweet, hours before he was arrested.
Last week, as the new school year started without teenage girls, he vowed to continue his campaign.
"The damage that closure of schools causes is irreversible and undeniable. We held meetings with locals, and we will continue our protest if the schools remain closed," he tweeted.
Even before the ban on girls' education, PenPath was dedicated to raising literacy in remote areas of the country.
With more than 70% of Afghan women unable to read and write, Afghanistan has the worst education indicators for women in Asia, according to the World Bank.
Over the past decade, Wesa has visited all 360 districts of Afghanistan to promote education.
"We've opened tens of schools across the country where more than 110,000 students are enrolled," he told Voice of America (VOA) in an interview published last April 21.
The work has not been easy.
"Twice we escaped direct firing at our car as we were traveling in rural areas … and there have always been people who call me names and threaten to kill me," he said.
PenPath has more than 2,400 volunteers across the country who help set up local classrooms, find teachers, distribute books and stationery, and organise community gatherings in support of education for both boys and girls, VOA reported.
"Our work is entirely apolitical, and we never oppose or support any political agenda," Wesa said.
Despite the risks, he has remained committed to promoting his message.
"I see change in the way people think about women's education," he told VOA last year. "In the past, people did not even talk about women's education. Now they're demanding it because they need female doctors, teachers, writers and what not."
'Raise your voice'
More than 1.1 million Afghan girls have been denied secondary education, according to the UN children's agency (UNICEF).
"Any grassroots initiatives that help communities to better understand the value of education for all children are extremely valuable in increasing demand for education and getting more girls into school," Samantha Mort, a UNICEF spokeswoman in Afghanistan, told VOA last year.
Shinkai Karokhel, a former member of the Afghan parliament and a women's rights activist, called PenPath "an extremely critical movement in Afghanistan".
"Nothing is more needed for a self-sufficient, independent and prosperous Afghanistan than education, and that's what this movement is striving to achieve," she told VOA.
In a recent speech in Geneva, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan Richard Bennett said the ban on girls' education "may amount to the crime of gender persecution, for which the authorities can be held accountable".
He expressed alarm at Wesa's arrest in a tweet on Tuesday. "His safety is paramount & all his legal rights must be respected," he said.
"Raise your voice for him," added Pashtana Zalmai Khan Durrani, director of Afghan non-profit education provider Learn Afghanistan.
Wesa is the second leading educator to be arrested in recent months for campaigning for girls' education.
In February, authorities detained a veteran journalism lecturer, Ismail Mashal, after local media showed him carting books around Kabul and offering them to passersby.
It followed a live appearance on television in which he tore up his diplomas to condemn the restrictions on women's right to work and education.
Since the beginning of 1977, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, most of the Afghan people immigrated to Pakistan. In Pakistan, political figures and figures who served Afghanistan were killed by Hizb-e-Islami with the orders from Pakistan's intelligence agency. In these 46 years, a large number of our compatriots, who were really serving their country, were killed by various groups such as the Peoples' Democratic Party of Afghanistan, the seven organizations of Mujahideen, and the Islamic Emirate. In Afghanistan, those who served truly, and are being killed by terrorist groups that have the support of foreign countries have been killed and are being killed. Anyone who serves in Afghanistan is taken prisoner or killed by the governments of the time. Those who betrayed Afghanistan and killed many people, the schools, roads, universities, and airfields were named after them, and they have been given political asylum by foreign countries, and other privileges. Those who serve the country and make great efforts to educate the people of this country and have the intention to build this country and serve the future generations of this country, all of them are being imprisoned by the governments of the time or they are captured and even killed. This is not something new as Mr. Matiullah was made captive. Anyone who serves this country will get such a reward.Reply
Your words are completely meaningless. Each writing should have a message. I don't understand what your message is? Do you want no Afghan to serve his country? No. This is a stupid type of thinking. Please don't discourage the youth from serving their country. I remember well, our physics' teacher told us in grade 9, "If you learn your today's physics lesson, it means that you have put a brick in the reconstruction of your country." We have a proverb saying that, "drops get together and make the sea". I hope you will not get upset with my words. In the hope of building and rebuilding our dear homeland, Afghanistan.Reply
I read the statements of some international figures about Matiullah Wesa. They all shed crocodile tears and called Wesa's arrest the hostility against the pen and book. The day when the Doha Agreement was signed with the Taliban, why did the US hide it from the Afghans, and why did they not involve the real owners of this country, the nation, in this sensitive issue? Why did they make a deal behind closed doors? Did America, its friends, and the world not understand that no matter how much Talib changes, he is still like a sickle, which is impossible to make right, and if corrected, it will get broken? Most of the Taliban are Afghans, but they have trained in Punjabi [Pakistani] theory and do what Punjab likes. America is also a partner in this game and other internationals as well. In the past two decades, the Taliban have set fire to girls' and boys' schools and destroyed public places. They have poured acid on the faces of girls and women, bombed people, and humiliated people of modesty and honor... This incompetent group has played any game they wanted with the Afghan people. When they came to power due to the deal between America and America's partners, the people's business was reduced to zero. They closed schools above grade 6 for girls, then universities, and deprived them of work. Talib is wholly unreasonable, and those who made deals with them, gave them power and paved the way for human disaster are also not people committed to human dignity...Reply
We are very unlucky people. :(Reply