Supporters of a prominent university professor, and one of Afghanistan’s most vocal critics of the Taliban, are calling for his release after he was arrested on Saturday.
Faizullah Jalal, a professor at Kabul University, was detained by the Taliban after the group claimed he was responsible for a series of messages on social media attacking them.
Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, tweeted: “A fanatic named #Jalal has been arrested for his remarks on social media inciting people against the #system and playing with human dignity,” adding screenshots of posts from a social media account with Jalal’s name and photograph.
But his daughter, Hosna Jalal, said the accounts listed by Mujahid are fake. “We had in fact reported them to Twitter a week prior, but they didn’t take any action. We have emails to prove that,” she said.
Hosna, who is currently studying in Europe, said she first learned of the arrest from social media. “We don’t know where he is being held or how he is doing. The Taliban have refused to let us talk to him. We were able to confirm the news through friends who were with him at the time of the arrest,” she added.
Jalal is one of the country’s best-known political commentators and a long-time activist against authoritarian regimes. He was arrested in 1978 for his role in protests against the communist coup in Afghanistan and was held and tortured in Pul-e-Charkhi prison. After his release, he joined Kabul University as a lecturer. In 1993, he was appointed vice-chancellor of the university, a position he held until 1996, when the Taliban seized Kabul. In 2001, after the fall of the Taliban, he was appointed deputy minister of education, before returning to academia. He is married to Massouda Jalal, Afghanistan’s first female presidential candidate and a former minister in the now abolished Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
“This is hard for my mother but she understands, because all his life he has been part of the non-violent civil resistance,” Hosna said. “Every time I talk to him, he tells me how happy he is being among the people, being their voice. I am very proud of him, and we pray he is released and reunited with his people,” she added.
Jalal’s supporters, particularly women’s groups, have taken to the streets in Kabul calling for his immediate release. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have also raised concerns over Jalal’s detention. “Despite the fact that Faizullah Jalal’s family have confirmed that the Twitter account set up in his name is fake, he remains detained in custody. The Taliban authorities must immediately and unconditionally release him,” Samira Hamidi, Afghan activist and Amnesty International’s South Asia campaigner, told the Guardian.
Jalal appeared on a televised debate with a Taliban panellist in November 2021, telling him: “You can’t govern with force, terror, power and by destroying. This country belong to all people. The country doesn’t belong to one group, one ethnicity, one class or a group of four people.”
His family grew very concerned over his safety after the debate. “We urged him to leave Kabul because the Taliban can be vengeful,” his daughter said. “(But) He has never wanted to leave. Even when we left, he refused to leave. And I know even after this he will not leave.”