KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban have arrested a popular university professor and outspoken critic of successive Afghan governments, including the new rulers in Kabul, the group’s spokesman said Sunday.
Zabihullah Mujahid said in a tweet that professor Faizuallah Jalal was being held by the Taliban’s intelligence arm. The group accused the professor of “nonsense remarks on social media, which were provoking people against the government and playing with people’s dignity.”
In the capital of Kabul a small group of women protested Jalal’s detention. They chanted: “Talking is not a crime, professor Jalal is not a criminal, we want professor Jalal’s release, professor Jalal’s voice is the people’s voice, Talking is not a crime.”
Afghanistan faces a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions, with the United Nations warning that 90% of the country’s 38 million people are in dire need. The arrest of a prominent political activist was certain to complicate humanitarian aid efforts.
It also reinforced fears that the Taliban are imposing the same harsh and repressive rule as their last stint in power before they were ousted by a U.S.-led coalition for harboring al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last August ahead of America’s chaotic Aug. 31 departure after nearly 20 years of war. The Islamic militant guerrillas-turned-rulers previously held power from 1996-2001.
In a tweet early Sunday, Jalal’s daughter Hasina Jalal pleaded for her father’s release. “As I confirm the disturbing news. I ask for the immediate release of my father Professor Faizuallah Jalal,” she tweeted.
TOLO TV, Afghanistan’s largest station on which Jalal was a frequent commentator, tweeted that Jalal was arrested “reportedly for making allegations against government departments, a security source said.”
There was no official response from the government to queries about Jalal’s arrest.
Jalal is the husband of one of the country’s first female presidential candidates, Masooda Jalal, who ran against former President Hamid Karzai in 2004.
In an interview in Kabul, Jalal’s niece Sudaba Adina cried as she pleaded for his release. She said he has lived in Afghanistan through successive regimes, including the previous Taliban rule.
“He had chances to go abroad, but he didn’t go because he wanted to stay here and serve his society,” she said. “His sin is that he is living in Afghanistan, and he was a truthful man who had the courage to criticize the government, he didn’t have any other sin apart from his courage.”