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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Comment by UN Human Rights spokesperson Jeremy Laurence on Afghanistan

29 March 2023

Matiullah  Wesa, head of Pen Path civil society with mobile school in Kandahar, photos from video: 30/05/2022 Reuters Marketplace - Anadolu Audio. © Reuters Marketplace - Anadolu Video

We are alarmed by the ongoing arbitrary arrests and detentions of civil society activists and media workers in Afghanistan, in particular the targeting of those who speak out against the de facto authorities’ discriminatory policies restricting women and girls’ access to education, work and most other areas of public and daily life.

We call for the immediate release of all those arbitrarily detained. No one should be detained for speaking out in defence of their fundamental rights and the rights of others. Arrest or detention as punishment for the legitimate exercise of fundamental rights, such as the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, is arbitrary under international human rights law.

A concerning number of civil society activists and media workers have been detained since early 2023. On 27 March, Matiullah Wesa, the head of Pen Path, a civil society organization campaigning for the reopening of girls’ schools, was detained by unidentified individuals who were travelling in an unmarked vehicle. Matiullah Wesa’s whereabouts remain unknown. The following day, the same individuals entered Matiullah Wesa’s home and  apprehended two of his brothers, who were released a few hours later.

Other activists and journalists have also been detained with no clear information as to their whereabouts, wellbeing or any charges against them. Among those held are Nargis Sadat, Zakaria Osuli, Sultan Ali Ziaee, Khairullah Parhar and Mortaza Behboudi.

Detainees’ human rights must be respected, in particular the right to be informed of the reason for their arrest at the time of their arrest, the right to be promptly informed of any charges against them, as well as the right of access to family members and to legal representation.

Under international human rights treaties to which Afghanistan is a party, the de facto authorities have the obligation to respect and ensure the rights to freedom of expression, opinion and freedom of peaceful assembly, as well as to provide access to an education and the right to work.


For more information and media requests, please contact:
In Geneva
Ravina Shamdasani - + 41 22 917 9169 / [email protected]or
Liz Throssell + 41 22 917 9296 / [email protected] or
Jeremy Laurence +  +41 22 917 9383 / [email protected] or
Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / [email protected]

In Nairobi
Seif Magango - +254 788 343 897 / [email protected]

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