Afghanistan's main intelligence agency "arbitrarily detained" two human rights defenders last week after they exposed alleged sexual abuse against children, Amnesty International says.
In a statement on November 25, the London-based human rights watchdog said Musa Mahmudi and Ehsanullah Hamidi were detained by the National Directorate of Security (NDS) on November 21 when they were on their way to meet with the European Union ambassador in Kabul.
The NDS must release the two men immediately, the statement said, adding that they “are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment” while in custody.
Both Mahmudi and Hamidi are well-known human rights defenders from Logar Province, south of Kabul, according to Amnesty.
It said the pair started receiving threats, including from local officials in Logar, after they gave interviews to the Afghan media outlet TOLO News and the British newspaper The Guardian earlier this month about a pedophile ring in the region.
At least 546 boys from six schools have allegedly been abused and some of the victims have been murdered, The Guardian reported, adding that rights campaigners had uncovered more than 100 videos of the abuse.
Authorities have not confirmed the allegations.
But Didar Lawang, spokesman for Logar’s governor, confirmed Mahmudi's arrest, telling AFP it occurred "after the people of Logar asked the government to arrest him and question him about a pedophile ring in schools."
“Rather than punishing [Mahmudi and Hamidi] for speaking out against these horrific crimes, the authorities should praise them for their work and hold the suspected perpetrators accountable through fair trials and without recourse to the death penalty,” said Samira Hamidi, South Asia campaigner at Amnesty.
The ancient practice of "bacha bazi" -- literally, dancing boys -- is common in Afghanistan among wealthy and powerful men who exploit underage boys as sexual partners.
With reporting by AFP