Taliban free Afghan educator who protested women's university ban: aide

Afghanistan's Taliban authorities have freed a detained academic, his aide told AFP on Monday, months after he used a television appearance to protest the ban on women's university education.

In December, veteran journalism lecturer Ismail Mashal tore up his degree certificates on live TV and denounced the Taliban's treatment of women in a clip that went viral in Afghanistan.

He was detained in February after domestic channels showed him carting books around Kabul and offering them to passersby.

Mashal was released on Sunday after more than a month in detention, aide Farid Fazli said.

"I can confirm that he was released yesterday. He is fine and in good health," Fazli told AFP.

"However, he is not in a condition to talk at the moment."

Mashal's release comes as universities across Afghanistan reopened on Monday after a winter break, but only for men as women remained barred from attending class.

The university ban is one of several restrictions imposed on women since the Taliban stormed back to power in August 2021, and has sparked global outrage -- including across the Muslim world.

Mashal, a lecturer for more than a decade, was in February "mercilessly beaten and taken away in a very disrespectful manner by members of the Islamic Emirate," referring to the Taliban government, according to Fazli.

The detention of activists like Mashal "instils fears in the community and has a chilling effect on the overall enjoyment of fundamental freedoms," the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.

Footage of Mashal destroying his certificates on private channel TOLOnews was shared widely on social media.

While it is rare in Afghanistan to see a man protest in support of women's rights, Mashal, who ran a coeducational institute, said he had to stand up.

"As a man and as a teacher, I was unable to do anything else for them, and I felt that my certificates had become useless. So, I tore them," he told AFP at the time.

"I'm raising my voice. I'm standing with my sisters... My protest will continue even if it costs my life."

Taliban authorities have effectively squeezed women out of public life since retaking power.

Secondary schools for girls have been closed for more than a year, while many women have lost jobs in government sectors.

They have also been barred from going to parks, gyms and public baths.