Who is Matiullah Wesa and why was he arrested?

Matiullah Wesa, an education activist and founder of Pen Path, posted a video on his social media platforms on Sunday, March 26, that showed female volunteers from his foundation, calling on the Taliban to reopen secondary schools for girls.

It was the last video he posted as part of his campaign to advocate for girls’ education in Afghanistan and his campaign to end illiteracy in the country. But he might not have known that his activities could one day put him behind bars.

The Taliban arrested him at a mosque near his home in Khoshal Khan in the west of Kabul on Monday, March 27.

His brother, Attaullah Wesa, told Amu that their house was surrounded by Taliban members on Tuesday and Wesa’s brothers, Samiullah and Wali Mohammad, were beaten up by the group – whose members verbally abused their mother.

Attaullah said the Taliban also confiscated Matiullah Wesa’s phones after searching his room – which was filled with books. He also had a reception room where he welcomed guests.

Matiullah Wesa and his brothers opened a school in Maroof district in the southern province of Kandahar in 2004. After a while, the school was set ablaze by unknown men.

Later, they founded the Pen Path foundation in Kandahar province in 2009.

Attaullah told Amu that Pen Path has 35 home schools in Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul, Uruzgan and Farah provinces.

Matiullah Wesa is famous for finding local solutions to local problems in various communities, especially remote areas, especially when it comes to promoting education among the people.

Over the past 19 months under the Taliban rule, Pen Path  succeeded in reopening at least 100 schools for girls in various provinces with the mediation of tribal elders.

In the past 14 years of his activities with Pen Path, Matiullah Wesa has traveled to different provinces; and distributed books to students from his “mobile library.” In addition, he has tried to involve tribal elders in reopening of secondary schools for girls over the past 19 months.

The foundation has 3,100 volunteer members.

Matiullah Wesa, 31, graduated from the human rights department of Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi.

Attaullah said that Taliban has not explained to them why they arrested Matiullah Wesa’s.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a message to Amu confirmed Matiullah Wesa’s arrest and said he was arrested for “illegal activities” and for holding “provocative” sessions on his own. Mujahid said Wesa will be released after an investigation.

Taliban’s head of publications in the Ministry of Information and Culture, Abdulhaq Hamad, in a tweet said the widespread reactions to Matiullah Wesa’s arrest show “a major plot has been prevented” — with his arrest.

Hamad said he does not know Wesa and is not aware of his case but added that Wesa’s activities were “suspicious” and that “the administration has the right to summon such individuals for an explanation.”

Afghanistan over the past 19 months under Taliban rule is the only country in which activities for girls and women’s education are suppressed by the ruling group.

Matiullah Wesa’s arrest meanwhile comes after the arrest on Saturday of at least three women activists who were detained during a protest rally in Kabul advocating for girls’ right to education. The women were released a day after their arrest but their arrest sparked widespread reaction.