Professor Ismail Mashal with his cart of free books. Photo credit: BBC
Since the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, the individual and civic rights gained by women in the past two decades, especially the rights to education and participation in public life, have been under attack by the Taliban. Professor Ismail Mashal, an advocate of women’s rights, has been detained by the Taliban government on February 2nd, 2023. He was violently arrested while distributing free books nearby the Ministry of Education, in the Dehbori area of Kabul. The Taliban have accused Professor Mashal of “provocative actions against the Taliban government” in a social media post.
Professor Mashal has long been an advocate of women’s right to education. Professor Mashal tore up his university degrees on live television to protest the ban on women’s education by the Taliban, saying, “If my sister and my mother can’t study, then I do not accept this education.” Until his detainment, he has worked as a lecturer in three universities and ran a private education institution with 450 students, a large portion of which were female. The institution offered girls and young women courses on subjects that are deemed unfit for them to study by the Taliban, including journalism, engineering, economics, and computer science. When the Taliban banned women from education and participation in public life, Mashal shut down his facility, refusing to offer courses to only men.
He was giving away free books on his wooden cart, when the Taliban violently attacked and detained him. A sign on his cart said in Dari, “Islam has given women and men equal rights to education.” After his protest on live television, he became the target of death threats, which forced him to stop teaching female students. His family has not heard from him since his arrest and have been denied information on his current condition.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide stands with all Afghan students and scholars whose lives, careers, and education have ended since the Taliban’s return to power. ESW stands with all Afghans who are living under the rule of the Taliban, and condemns the persecution of gender, sexual, religious, and ethnic minorities. We join the international community to make every effort to urge the Afghan government honor their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights treaties, including the release of Professor Ismail Mashal and all other unlawfully imprisoned scholars, students, and advocates of democracy; to ensure free and unhindered humanitarian access to people in need of assistance and protection; and to honor the right to education and free expression.