Taliban confirms arrest of lecturer who advocated for girls’ education

Ismail Mashal in Kabul on Feb. 1, 2023.

Taliban early on Friday confirmed the arrest of Ismail Mashal, a university lecturer, who advocated for the education rights of women and girls in Afghanistan by distributing books on a pushcart to people around the city.

A Taliban spokesman, Abdulhaq Hamad, accused Mashal of working against the Taliban administration.

He said that Mashal had invited a number of journalists – near his cart in Dehburi area in the west of Kabul on Thursday – and was trying to “create anarchy” but he was arrested by “security personnel” and is under investigation.

In a symbolic move, Ismail Mashal started a campaign to distribute thousands of books to the people, especially women and girls, to fight for the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. He started his campaign on Wednesday.

Mashal, a university lecturer and owner of a private university, last month tore up all his education documents on a live interview with a local TV channel in protest against the Taliban’s ban on women’s higher education, girls’ education and the ban on women working for aid agencies. He vowed to stop working as a lecturer and close his university if the ban on education wasn’t overturned.

After a short break at home, Mashal started building a cart in the shape of a tree. On top of the tree, it is written that education is obligatory for men and women. Names of all university subjects are written on the leaves of the tree, such as computer science, philosophy, medical studies, social sciences and so on.

His move was widely welcomed by people within and outside the country, especially by women and girls.

Walking through the streets of Kabul, pushing his cart, Mashal started handing out books to passersby. Pictures of him uploaded to social media grabbed the attention of locals and Afghans living abroad and messages of support started pouring in.

Ismail Mashal standing near his cart in the west of Kabul on Feb. 1, 2023.

In one of his interviews last week, he said he has already said goodbye to his wife and his mother as he knows how risky this campaign will provide for him.

“There are many who cannot buy books; therefore, I stepped forward to distribute these books and I hope others will also donate books to us to give them to others,” Mashal said on Wednesday, Feb. 1, who has named his cart the “tree.”

This comes as Taliban this week banned women from writing the university entrance exams in private higher education institutes, a move that also faced global condemnation.