KABUL: An Afghan activist who campaigned for girls’ education was released after seven months in detention on Thursday, his family said, the latest high-profile detainee to be released by Taliban authorities this month.

Matiullah Wesa, the founder of the non-profit organisation PenPath, was arrested in March this year for his work in the education sector, according to his brother Attaullah Wesa.

On Thursday, he was notified of his release after a hearing and was “on his way back home”, Attaullah told AFP, adding that he did not yet have information on his brother’s physical health.

For more than a decade, PenPath has been dedicated to communicating the importance of education to elders in rural villages, helping to reopen schools for girls and boys closed because of violence, and establishing libraries.

Women’s access to education has been tightly restricted since the Taliban government seized power in August 2021, imposing a strict interpretation of Islamic law on the country and largely excluding women from public life.

Teenage girls and women are barred from schools and universities. Thousands of women have lost their government jobs -- or are being paid to stay at home.

Girls and women are also prohibited from entering parks, funfairs or gyms.

Since the ban on secondary schools for girls, Matiullah had continued visiting remote areas to gather support from locals and vowed to continue his campaign.

Attaullah said his brother was sentenced to seven months in jail for “carrying out propaganda against the government, but it was not clarified what that propaganda was”.

“I don’t know how to react, I have barely slept or eaten since yesterday because I was following his case,“ he added.

Taliban authorities did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

- ‘Good news’ -

The arrest sparked an outcry from the United Nations and international rights groups, as well as diplomats and high-profile figures such as humanitarian activist and actor Angelina Jolie.

Shortly before his release, the London-based Index on Censorship handed Matiullah a Freedom of Expression Award.

Rights groups quickly hailed the news, urging authorities to release other detainees, including women activists Zholya Parsi and Neda Parwani.

“Good news from Afghanistan,“ Amnesty International posted on social media platform X.

Matiullah “should never have been jailed for promoting girls right to education”.

The UN’s top expert on rights in Afghanistan Richard Bennett also welcomed the news on X.

He called “for the immediate & unconditional release of all Afghanistan human rights defenders who are arbitrarily detained for standing up for their own rights & the human rights of others”.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said Parsi and Parwani had been arrested along with members of their families in September in a statement and called for the authorities “to cease arbitrary arrests and detentions”.

Recent weeks have seen several detainees released in Afghanistan.

Afghan-French journalist Mortaza Behboudi, who had spent 284 days in jail, was released last week after charges against him, including espionage and illegal support for foreigners, were dropped, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said.

Also in October, four British men were released from detention in Afghanistan, including charity medic Kevin Cornwell, 53, and YouTube star Miles Routledge.

The two men were believed to have been held by the Taliban authorities since January. -AFP

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