Taliban arrest prominent critic in Kabul

Faizullah Jalal, a law professor, was taken from his home overnight

Prof Jalal recently used a TV interview to condemn the militants' style of governing. He also repeatedly warned against unconditional international recognition of the Taliban regime. Photo: AFP

Afghanistan's Taliban government has confirmed overnight that an outspoken critic of the militant group has been arrested in Kabul.

Faizullah Jalal is a professor of law and political sciences at Kabul University. He is the husband of Afghanistan’s first female presidential candidate Dr Massouda Jalal, who also served for two years as the country's minister of women’s affairs under former president Hamid Karzai.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Prof Jalal is accused of “inciting the people against the state and playing with people’s honour”.

He also shared screenshots of Prof Jalal’s Twitter account.

Prof Jalal’s family, who said he was taken from his home to an unknown location, claimed that the Twitter account does not belong to him and is a fake.

Soon after news of the arrest broke, Hasina Jalal – Prof Jalal's daughter – urged human rights organisations to back her calls for her father's immediate release.

Afghan and international human rights activists have expressed solidarity with the professor and are calling on the Taliban government to free him.

Amnesty International condemned the arrest and said the Taliban should "immediately and unconditionally" release him.

Horia Mosadiq, a human rights activist and executive director at the Conflict Analysis Network, wrote: “He did nothing but speak the truth. The Taliban are continuing to arrest, detain, torture and kill Afghans who think differently.”

Prof Jalal has criticised Afghanistan's political elites and publicly exposed them, even before the Taliban regained power in August last year.

He recently used a TV interview to condemn the militants' style of governing in front of a Taliban official. He also repeatedly warned against unconditional international recognition of the Taliban regime.

Austrian-Afghan journalist and author Emran Feroz said Prof Jalal "criticised the Taliban harshly and for good reason, like he did with the previous regime. Now he is in the hands of the Taliban.

"Everyone who cares about freedom of speech should push for his release."

Another Afghan journalist, Mujib Mashal of The New York Times, said: “Prof Jalal was among the few consistently clear and vocal on the corruption of the system, both under Karzai and [former president Ashraf] Ghani. He never minced words."

The arrest is fuelling concerns about freedom of expression in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

“The Taliban’s arrest of Prof Jalal is a clear indication of their atrocities that impose restrictions on freedom of speech and strike fear into the heart of intellectuals and progressive individuals of the Afghan society,” wrote author and activist Nilofar Sakhi.

The Taliban initially assured the people of Afghanistan that their rights would be protected in accordance with Sharia.

But Shaharzad Akbar, a former head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said the Taliban are not honouring their commitments.

“The Taliban made great promises during the 'peace' talks regarding respect for women's Islamic rights and freedom of expression," Ms Akbar said.

"Now they are afraid of imagining girls being educated, and critics are imprisoned and tortured. This amount of lying, hypocrisy and animosity with women and critics is nauseating."

For many human rights activists, Taliban rule has meant limits being placed on people's right to criticise their government.

“Because, in the Taliban’s world, you have no right to complain or criticise,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

The move may also affect the militants' push for recognition. The international community has said an inclusive state and respect for human and women's rights are fundamental preconditions for recognition of a Taliban government.

Updated: January 9th 2022, 2:53 PM