Today, Matiullah Wesa walked out of an Afghan prison. The co-founder of Pen Path, an organisation forging routes to education in Afghanistan, has spent the last seven months behind bars. Only recently has his mother been allowed to visit him.
Until 27 March this year, Wesa was riding a motorbike around Afghanistan, a bookcase and computer built into the mobile classroom, to areas where schools do not exist. He read from books to cohorts of girls, locked out of education. And he campaigned for schools to reopen. All of these activities put him in the spotlight.
On his way home from evening prayer seven months ago, Wesa was arrested. Then his house was raided. For much of his imprisonment, Wesa’s family were not allowed to speak with him. Today, his brother and co-founder of Pen Path, Attaullah Wesa, spoke to Index from Toronto about the news. He too is at risk from his work with Pen Path, and arrived in Canada in September.
“I am so happy. I couldn’t sleep last night, I was waking with Matiullah in my dreams. But I don’t know about [the lack] of sleep, I feel very well,” he said.
“I spoke to him when he came out from the jail, just for two minutes — ‘Hi, how are you, how was the jail?’ He told me, ‘No problem,’” Attaullah Wesa said, able to make light of the situation. Some other family members are now with him, and he will now go for health checks. “He looks in good spirit.”
An hour before his brother’s release, Attaullah Wesa had a phone call from his brother, telling him what was about to happen.
Since Matiullah Wesa was released earlier today, his brother’s phone has rung constantly, with messages of congratulations. Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai called him personally to tell him how happy he was. Further calls came from members of parliament around the world, human rights organisations and the press. The international community, he explained, has put a lot of pressure on the Taliban about his brother’s imprisonment.
Pen Path was established in 2009 to create greater access to education, and make sure all children have access to learning and books. Since the Taliban takeover, this job has become more and more difficult, with access to education for women and girls becoming a priority. During the recent earthquakes near Herat, Pen Path have forged on, speaking with people in affected areas about their needs.
This work has continued this year, but without Matiullah Wesa. Just last week, he was announced as the winner of the campaigning category of the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards. With Wesa behind bars, his brother sent a video message to receive the award, saying that the award was vital in “Letting Matiullah know that he is remembered and won’t be forgotten.”
Baroness Helena Kennedy took to the stage in London to announce Wesa as the winner, echoing the voices of campaigners inside Afghanistan who are calling the current situation a gender apartheid. She said: “It’s very important that we don’t forget Afghanistan.”
With his brother out of prison, Pen Path will continue its work, Attaullah Wesa explains.
“Now we will start in a good spirit, because now the international community knows more about us,” he said. “We will also come with the international community and we will deal some pressure to the Taliban to accept the basic right of girls and women of Afghanistan.”
He ends the call to Index with a message: “For those social activists who are in the prison of the Taliban, they must release them soon.”