KABUL – Angelina Jolie has stepped forward to advocate for the imprisoned Afghan education activist, Matiullah Wesa, who was arrested by the Taliban on March 27 and had been a vocal supporter of girls’ education in Afghanistan.
Wesa co-founded a nonprofit organization aimed at promoting education in rural Afghanistan and had been particularly vocal about reversing the Taliban’s decisions to close girls’ high schools and ban them from attending university. Numerous diplomatic figures and the United Nations have called for Wesa’s release, and various media outlets have covered his case extensively. However, after nearly five months, Wesa remains in prison without a clear reason provided by the Taliban for his arrest.
Despite the media attention waning, Angelina Jolie has taken the initiative to bring his case back to the forefront.
In an email letter sent to Wesa through his brother, Jolie expressed her support and highlighted Wesa’s dedication to improving education for Afghan children, especially in remote areas. She joined the chorus of voices calling for his release and the removal of all restrictions on girls’ education. Jolie also encouraged her Instagram followers to show their support by leaving messages for Wesa at @penpathvolunteers.
Matiullah Wesa’s advocacy for better education dates back to 2009 when he co-founded Penpath, an NGO that worked to reopen schools in Afghanistan that had been closed due to years of conflict. Alongside his brother Attaullah, Wesa would travel to distant regions of the country to persuade local leaders to reopen schools. They earned the monikers “mobile librarians” and “brothers who bring them books” due to their efforts to provide educational resources to underserved areas.
Since the Taliban’s ban on girls’ higher education, Penpath’s focus shifted towards advocating for the reopening of girls’ schools. The Wesa brothers emerged as prominent supporters of Afghan women’s rights, as they campaigned against Taliban restrictions and stood up for the right to education for all Afghan children.
Despite the risks posed by the Taliban’s crackdown on dissent, Matiullah Wesa continued his efforts to challenge the bans on girls’ education. While few men publicly took a stand against such issues, Wesa and his brother remained steadfast. Attaullah Wesa, who is now in hiding due to threats from the Taliban, affirmed their commitment to education for all Afghan children.
Human rights groups noted a lack of male support for women’s causes in Afghanistan, attributing this to the Taliban’s suppressive tactics. The Taliban’s directive that men would be punished if their female relatives went out uncovered had a chilling effect on potential allies of women’s rights. This order underscored the expectation that all men enforce the Taliban’s rules and stifled any opposition.