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Afghan girls' education advocate is freed from Taliban prison

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban have freed an Afghan activist who campaigned for the education of girls, a local nonprofit organization said Thursday. Matiullah Wesa was arrested seven months ago and spent 215 days in prison, according to the group, Pen Path.

Wesa has been outspoken in his demands for girls to have the right to go to school and repeatedly called on the Taliban-led government in Afghanistan to reverse its bans on female education.

Since their takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban have barred girls from school beyond the sixth grade. Last December, they banned women from going to universities. Afghanistan is the only country in the world with restrictions on female education.

After his release, Wesa thanked his friends for their support and vowed to continue his work.

"Our hopes and goals will not change, nor will they be broken, we will continue our charitable services," he tweeted. "I will share the whole process and (details of the) prison situation later."

Wesa's brother Ataullah challenged the seven-month detention.

"Why is a person arrested if he is working for the basic rights of a nation or generation?" Ataullah said in a message to The Associated Press. "He is not guilty. He did not commit any crime."

He declined to comment on his brother's treatment in prison and said it was Pen Path's social and civic responsibility to continue working in the education field.

The U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, welcomed the news about Wesa.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Bennett also called for the "immediate and unconditional release of all Afghanistan human rights defenders who are arbitrarily detained for standing up for their own rights & the human rights of others."

Amnesty International said that Wesa should never have been jailed for promoting girls' rights to education.

"The Taliban de-facto authorities must release human rights defenders and women protesters Rasool Parsi, Neda Parwani, Zholia Parsi and Manizha Sediqi and all others who are unfairly kept behind bars for standing up for equality and denouncing repression," the rights group tweeted.

Prior to his arrest, Wesa and others from Pen Path launched a door-to-door campaign to promote girls' education.

"We have been volunteering for 14 years to reach people and convey the message for girls' education," Wesa said in social media posts. "During the past 18 months we campaigned house-to-house in order to eliminate illiteracy and to end all our miseries."

Attaullah said Taliban forces surrounded the family home in late March, beat family members, and confiscated Matiullah's cellphone.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press