Prominent Afghan professor arrested for criticising Taliban rule

The arrest of Faizullah Jalal is stoking fears that the Taliban will reimpose harsh rules on freedom of speech.

Massouda Jalal, wife of detained Taliban critic Faizullah Jalal is seated at a table
Massouda Jalal, (right), who ran in 2004 as Afghanistan's first woman candidate for the presidency, has called for the release of her husband Faizullah Jalal [File: Jack Guez/AFP]

A prominent Afghan university professor and outspoken critic of the Taliban leadership has been arrested in Kabul.

Faizullah Jalal, a longtime professor of law and political science at Kabul University, has made several appearances on television talk shows since the US-backed government was pushed out in August, blaming the Taliban for the worsening financial crisis and criticising them for ruling by force.

In one television appearance, Jalal called Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem a “calf”, a grave insult in Afghanistan. Clips of his passionate criticism went viral on social media, sparking concerns of retribution.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that Jalal had been detained on Saturday by the Taliban’s intelligence arm over statements he made on social media in which he was “trying to instigate people against the system and was playing with the dignity of the people”.

“He has been arrested so that others don’t make similar senseless comments in the name of being a professor or scholar that harm the dignity of others,” he added.

Mujahid shared screenshots of tweets he claimed had been posted by Jalal, which said the Taliban intelligence chief was a stooge of Pakistan, and that the new government considers Afghans as “donkeys”.

Local news agency Aamaj News said the account Mujahid made reference to, @UstadJalal1,  was a fake. The professor had tweeted on Saturday from his official Twitter handle, @JalalFaizullah, to denounce the fact that the account had been purporting to be him.

Jalal’s wife Massouda, who ran against former President Hamid Karzai in 2004 as Afghanistan’s first woman candidate for the presidency, posted on Facebook that her husband had been arrested by Taliban forces and detained in an unknown location.

“Dr Jalal has fought and spoken out for justice and the national interest in all his activities pertaining to human rights,” she said.

TOLO TV, Afghanistan’s largest station on which Faizuallah Jalal was a frequent commentator, tweeted that Jalal was arrested “reportedly for making allegations against government departments,” a security source said.

Freedom of speech

Human rights group Amnesty International has condemned the arrest of the lecturer “for exercising his freedom of expression and criticising the Taliban” and has called for his immediate and unconditional release.

Patricia Gossman, an associate Asia director for Human Rights Watch, reacted to the news of the arrest in a tweet saying: “Because in the Taliban’s world you have no right to complain or criticize. Repressive authoritarian regimes brook no dissent.”

In a tweet early Sunday, Jalal’s daughter Hasina Jalal pleaded for her father’s release. “I call on the Taliban to immediately release my father,” she said.

The Taliban have formed an all-male cabinet made up entirely of members of the group, and almost exclusively of ethnic Pashtuns.

They have further restricted women’s rights to travel, work and study, triggering widespread international condemnation.

US-led sanctions on the Taliban government have halted much-needed international aid to Afghanistan, which faces a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. The United Nations has warned that 90 percent of the country’s 38 million people are in dire need.

The arrest could further complicate humanitarian aid efforts as it reinforces fears that the Taliban are imposing the same harsh and repressive rule as their last stint in power from 1996-2001.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies