Afghanistan: Free Girls Education Activist Matiullah Wesa

The abduction and detention of human rights defender and education campaigner, Matiullah Wesa, in Afghanistan is a clear attempt by the Taliban to curtail all opposition to their restrictions on the education of women and girls, global civil society alliance, CIVICUS said today.  Matiullah Wesa was abducted by the Taliban on 27 March 2023 outside a mosque in Kabul where he was attending evening prayers. His family was threatened and their phones, computers and documents confiscated. There are concerns that the Taliban may also be looking for his brother who works closely with him on education rights. 

Matiullah is a human rights defender and through PenPath, a civil society organisation he set up in 2009, he has advocated for access to education for all women and girls. For more than a decade, Matiullah worked with community leaders to galvanise support for the building of schools in rural areas and making education accessible through mobile classrooms in remote areas where government schools were absent.  

PenPath has also mobilised for the opening of schools in areas where they were closed due to conflict and has been successful in re-opening more than 100 schools across 16 provinces.  Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, PenPath has campaigned publicly and worked with tribal leaders and religious leaders for access to education for girls and to lift bans on education.  

The state of human rights in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate by the day, with some of the most striking restrictions to education and those campaigning to protect the rights of girls and women." Said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS. 

The abduction of Matiullah is part of a wider trend by the Taliban to limit education for women and girls.  After taking over power in August 2021, the Taliban imposed a ban on secondary schools for girls and as of December 2022, prevented girls from attending university. Protests against the denial of the right to education by the Taliban have been violently repressed while human rights defenders and those who campaign against the ban have been arrested and detained with impunity.  

“By abducting Matiullah Wesa and targeting other human rights defenders and campaigners advocating for the right to education by women and girls, the Taliban aims to completely silence  those speaking against the egregious limits being placed on education.  Matiullah should be released immediately and the ban on education lifted,”  Kode continued.

Afghanistan was recently downgraded to ‘closed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks civic space conditions in 197 countries and territories.