SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: February 03, 2023

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment

Institution(s):Various Institutions

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Afghanistan

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On February 2, 2023, Taliban security forces detained journalism professor Ismail Mashal, apparently for his public criticism of the Taliban and their ban on women attending higher education institutions.

In December 2022, Mashal drew attention when he tore his academic records during a television shortly after the Taliban announced its ban on women attending higher education (see report). In further protest of the ban, Mashal shut down a private university that he oversaw in Kabul, saying “education is either offered to all, or no one,” and resigned from his posts at other institutions where he taught.

On the day he was detained, Mashal was pushing a cart and handing out free books on the streets of Kabul, near the Ministry of Education. Affixed to his cart was a tree with a sign attached to one branch that read, “Islam has given women and men equal rights to education.” Taliban security forces approached Mashal, beat and pushed him to the ground, and then detained him.

Taliban authorities accused Mashal of engaging in “provocative activities” and “chaos” against the Taliban, though it is unclear whether they formally charged Mashal. According to Deutsche Welle, an official from the Taliban’s Ministry of Information and Culture tweeted that “Teacher Mashal had indulged in provocative actions against the system for some time” and that “security agencies took him for investigation.”

Mashal’s family told the BBC that they were unable to get in touch with him for the first ten days of his detention.

On March 5, the Taliban reportedly released Mashal.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by state security forces beating and detaining a scholar, apparently for exercising his right to freedom of expression — conduct that is expressly 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 authorities must respect nonviolent expressive conduct and refrain from actions intended to punish, restrict, or deter such conduct. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.