On January 8, 2022, Taliban forces arrested Kabul University lecturer and political commentator Faizullah Jalal at his home and took him to an unknown location, apparently for his public criticism of the Taliban government.
Jalal has been a well-known political commentator in Afghanistan for years and has been openly critical of both the previous U.S.-backed government and the current Taliban government. Concerns about Taliban retaliation against his criticisms have been circulating for months. In November, rumors spread that Jalal had been attacked after he appeared in a televised debate in which he accused the Taliban government of restricting free speech and monopolizing power and insulted the Taliban spokesman, Mohammad Naeem.
On January 8, Jalal was arrested by Taliban intelligence forces at his home in Kabul and taken to an unknown location. According to TOLO News, a “security source” stated that Jalal had been arrested for “making allegations against some government departments” and was being subjected to interrogations by the intelligence department. On January 9, Al Jazeera reported that government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid had posted tweets about the arrest stating that Jalal had made comments on social media in an attempt to “instigate people against the system” and that he had been arrested to ensure “others don’t make similar senseless comments in the name of being a professor or scholar that harm the dignity of the people.” Mujahid also shared inflammatory tweets from an account under the professor’s name, which Jalal and his family had said was fake.
On January 11, Jalal’s family announced on social media that he had been released from detention. In an interview with Radio Azadi following his release, Jalal stated that he had been treated well while in custody and promised to continue “telling the truth” despite his detention. The Taliban did not immediately comment on his release.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the arbitrary detention of a scholar for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression – conduct that is protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Afghanistan is a party. State and governing authorities have an obligation to refrain from taking actions to restrict or retaliate against such conduct, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to harm to the immediate victim, arbitrary detention intended to restrict or otherwise deter the peaceful expressive activity of scholars undermines academic freedom and democratic society more generally.