Prominent Afghan education activist released by Taliban

By Charlotte Greenfield

(Reuters) -Taliban authorities released prominent education activist Matiullah Wesa this week, his organisation said on Thursday, after his seven-month detention sparked condemnation from the United Nations and rights groups.

The Taliban administration has barred most girls from high school and women from universities since taking over the country in 2021.

Wesa, from the southern province of Kandahar, has for years advocated for girls’ education, particularly in conservative rural areas, including during the tenure of the previous Western-backed foreign government when he said many girls living in the countryside were not reached by education services.

A spokesperson for the Taliban administration confirmed Wesa’s release. The Taliban have not previously officially confirmed the detention or its reason.

“Matiullah Wesa is released … he is with his family,” said Nasibullah Noor, a board member at Pen Path, Wesa’s education organisation.

Pen Path and the U.N. Mission in Afghanistan confirmed the detention in late March, spurring calls for his release by foreign diplomats and human rights organisations.

Actress and refugee advocate Angelina Jolie wrote an open letter to Wesa in August saying: “I add my voice, with humility, to those of everyone calling for your release, so that you can continue your important work, and for the lifting of all restrictions on education for girls.”

Wesa and Pen Path volunteers continued to speak in support of female education, holding meetings with tribal elders, encouraging communities to open schools for girls and boys and disbursing books and mobile libraries.

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad; Editing by Giles Elgood and Jonathan Oatis)