U.N. rights rapporteur urges release of detained Afghan education activist

KABUL (Reuters) - The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights called on Afghanistan's Taliban administration on Friday to release a university lecturer and education activist detained by security forces in the capital Kabul.

Local media reported Ismael Mashal had been distributing academic and other books on Kabul's streets after tearing up his own diploma on live television in protest at a Taliban decision in December to ban female students from universities.

The decision came after Taliban authorities closed most girls' high schools and barred most women from working for charity groups.

"(I am) concerned about yesterday's arrest of peaceful education activist and university lecturer Ismael Mashal by the Taliban," U.N. rights rapporteur Richard Bennett said on Twitter, calling for his immediate and unconditional release.

Abdul Haq Hammad, head of media monitoring at the Taliban information ministry, said Mashal had been arrested by security forces after gathering journalists, creating a crowd on the street and "creating propaganda against the government".

Hammad said he had visited Mashal in detention and found he was being held in good conditions including heating, and had been able to contact his family.

It was not immediately clear whether Mashal would face formal charges or further punishment.

The international community has condemned Taliban restrictions on women, with some diplomats saying foreign capitals will not consider formally recognising the Taliban government unless it changes course.

The Taliban seized power in August 2021 when U.S.-led international coalition forces completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan after a 20-year presence, triggering the collapse of the Western-backed government.

(Reporting by Kabul Newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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