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Afghanistan: Poet Haseeb Ahrari is latest victim of the Taliban’s unrelenting crackdown on civil society

June 18, 2023 IN WIP
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PEN International is alarmed to learn that Afghan poet and artist, Haseeb Ahrari, has been arrested and detained by the Taliban. Ahrari’s detention is the latest example of the Taliban’s ongoing crackdown on civil society and freedom of expression, which has led to the arbitrary detention of women’s rights activists, journalists, academics and cultural figures. We for call for Haseeb Ahrari’s immediate and unconditional release, along with all those detained for their peaceful expression.

On 1 June 2023, the Taliban reportedly arrested Haseeb Ahrari at his home in Kabul, just weeks after he returned from Iran, where he had been earning a living following the Taliban’s return to power.

In a country with such a rich literary tradition, where poets are cherished by Afghans of all ages, Ahrari’s arrest is a tragic example of how the Taliban’s rule by repression threatens to undermine Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. We call for Haseeb Ahrari’s immediate release and an end to the Taliban’s repression of civil society’, said Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

Born in the Panjshir Province, Ahrari is known for his poems on social media, which often centre on themes of freedom and patriotism. While the basis for Ahrari’s arrest remains unknown, he was reportedly planning to publish a book of his poetry following his return from Iran.

Haseeb Ahrari’s arrest is the latest in a growing number of arbitrary detentions of civil society and cultural actors by the Taliban, who have imposed severe restrictions on all forms of public expression in the country. Recent examples include the detention of prominent advocate for girls’ education, Matiullah Wesa, who remains arbitrarily detained for over two months since he was initially arrested in late March. French-Afghan journalist, Mortaza Behdoudi, has been arbitrarily detained for over five months since he was initially detained on 7 January.

PEN International calls for Haseeb Ahrari’s immediate and unconditional release, along with all of those who have been detained for their peaceful expression. We urge the Taliban to reverse its restrictive policies, including all measures that undermine the right to freedom of expression in the country.

For further information please contact Ross Holder, Head of Asia/Pacific Region at PEN International:

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People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.

— John Ralston Saul on the work of PEN International