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Taliban Criticized For Arresting Outspoken Professor

Kabul University professor Faizullah Jalal during a television interview. (file photo)

The Taliban has detained a prominent university professor after he publicly criticized the Taliban-led government in a live television debate, prompting a torrent of domestic and international criticism and worries about his safety.

Faizullah Jalal, a professor at Kabul University, was detained on January 8 at his home in Kabul and taken to an unknown location, his daughter, Hasina Jalal, confirmed to RFE/RL.

In a television broadcast on November 20, the professor of law and political science lambasted the Taliban and engaged in heated barbs with a co-guest of the show, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem.

“I feel pain because of the current situation in Kabul,” said Jalal, who accused the Taliban of monopolizing power and stifling free speech. “People do not have anything to eat. What is the security like? No one can say anything.”

He also called Taliban spokesman Naeem a “calf,” an insult in Afghanistan that means stupid. That came after Naeem questioned Jalal’s sanity and alleged he was a communist.

Clips of Jalal’s comments went viral on social media, where many Afghans applauded him for his bravery. In a symbolic show of solidarity, some Afghans displayed his picture on their social media profiles.

Responding to the outcry over Jalal’s arrest, the Taliban's chief spokespman, Zabihullah Mujahid, tweeted that the professor was arrested for making baseless statements and inciting people against the Taliban.

Mujahid also shared screenshots from an unverified Twitter account that he said belonged to Jalal. It contained serious allegations against the Taliban.

However, Hasina Jalal said the account the Taliban attributed to her father was fake. The account was later either deleted by the user or by Twitter.

The Kabul University professor is known for his outspoken criticism of the country’s leaders, including the former internationally backed presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani. He has taken part in numerous televised debates in Afghanistan over the years.

"In the past 20 years and even before, the professor has fought for justice and the rule of law in Afghanistan and has been a critic of previous regimes and governments. After he severely criticized the current regime, he was persecuted, and his life was put in danger,” his daughter said.

In response to the arrest, ordinary Afghans and many international human rights organizations came out in support of Jalal, with some calling him the voice of the Afghan people.

“The Taliban authorities take any criticism as a threat, like all autocratic regimes. And then come up with excuses for their repression,” Patricia Gossman, the associate Asia director for Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter.

“Faizullah Jalal condemned and criticized Americans, Ghani, and Karzai for two decades. But he wasn’t detained. He spoke up against Talibs -- only once -- and now he is behind the bars,” New York Times reporter Sharif Hassan wrote.

Jalal is the husband of one of Afghanistan's first female presidential candidates, Masooda Jalal, who ran against former President Hamid Karzai in 2004.

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