Monday, January 24

Afghanistan: respected professor arrested, criticizes Taliban

Faizullah Jalal, professor at the University of Kabul, and his wife Massouda, September 24, 2004 in ParisJACK GUEZ

A respected Afghan scholar, known for his harsh criticism of the Taliban regime, was arrested in Kabul, his daughter saying on Sunday fears for “her health and safety”.

Kabul University professor Faizullah Jalal was arrested by the Taliban on Saturday and has not given any news since. In recent months, he had spoken on television several times against the new masters of Afghanistan.

Since coming to power in August, they have gradually tightened their grip on the country, forcibly dispersing several women’s protests and briefly detaining journalists.

Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Twitter justified Faizullah Jalal’s arrest with social media posts in which he “tried to turn people against the system.”

“He was arrested to prevent others from making similar insane comments, under the pretext of being a professor or an academic,” he continued, posting screenshots of the offending posts.

Faizullah Jalal’s daughter Hasina, a student at Georgetown University in Washington, however, assured that the posts came from a fake account, which the family has tried to shut down several times in recent weeks.

“The Taliban are just using these posts as an excuse to silence a loud voice across the country,” she told AFP by phone, adding that she had not had any contact with her father since his arrest.

“We are very concerned for his health and safety,” she added.

– ‘How can I abandon my people?’ –

A respected figure, also critical of the previous government supported by the United States, Faizullah Jalal was particularly noted during a televised debate with a Taliban official whom he had called a “calf”, a very serious insult in Afghanistan.

Snippets of that debate had gone viral in Afghanistan, raising concerns about possible reprisals.

According to Hasina Jalal, her father, in his sixties, refuses to leave Afghanistan where he does not benefit from any security measures and lately lived mostly in hiding in Kabul. Her family had found refuge in Europe.

“He said to me + How can I abandon my people? I did not leave them during the first Taliban regime or during the civil wars, how can I abandon them now? +”, She declared.

Professor of law and political science at Kabul University, Faizullah Jalal has built a reputation as a fierce critic of Afghan leaders over the years.

He was imprisoned in the 1980s after the invasion of the country by the Soviet Union and was arrested several times during the Taliban’s first reign, between 1996 and 2001, according to Hasina Jalal.

His wife, Massouda Jalal, was the first woman candidate for a presidential election in Afghanistan in 2004.

On Sunday, a small group of women demonstrated in Kabul to demand her release and respect for freedom of expression.

The NGO Amnesty International demanded his release, believing that the academic was arrested “for having exercised his freedom of expression and criticizing the Taliban”.

The Taliban, who claim to be more moderate than during their first reign, has however severely cracked down on dissent and the right of women to work and study since returning to power, drawing many condemnations.

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