Kabul professor arrested for criticising Taliban on Twitter, family claims account was fake
Ustad Faizullah Jalal's daughter had reported a Twitter account for impersonating her father several days before his arrest.
12 Jan 2022
On January 8, Ustad Faizullah Jalal, a professor at Kabul University, was arrested after allegedly publicly criticising the Taliban on Twitter and television.
Jalal, a longtime professor of law and political science, is the husband of Massouda Jalal, the former Minister of Women Affairs and Afghanistan’s first female Presidential candidate. He is known as an outspoken critic of the Taliban and their governance style, regularly appearing on local television and radio channels.
Since the Taliban takeover in August, Jalal has made several appearances on television talk shows, where he blamed the Taliban for the country’s dwindling financial crisis and criticised them for ruling by force. He also reportedly called Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem a “calf” – a grave insult in Afghanistan – with clips of his criticism going viral online.
Jalal’s arrest attracted widespread criticism online along with an outpouring of support for the professor, and a protest was held in Kabul. A petition was also launched on change.org calling for Jalal’s release, which was created by an academic at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul.
According to online sources, Jalal was held at what previously was Department 241 of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) in the Shash Darak neighbourhood in PD2, Kabul (34°31'53.65"N, 69°11'54.33"E), though Afghan Witness (AW) investigators have been unable to verify this information.
The circumstances that led to the reported arrest have also attracted attention.
On January 8, Taliban spokesperson Zabehullah Mujahid published several screenshots of the public criticism allegedly posted on Twitter by Jalal, which had reportedly led to his arrest.
The statements were posted on a Twitter account using the handle @UstadJalal1.
However, earlier that day, Jalal’s daughter, Hasina Jalal, had claimed the account was a fake profile. Shortly after her statement, the @UstadJalal1 handle was changed to @OURVILLAGE111, and all tweets prior to January 8 were deleted. The profile’s current content consists primarily of idyllic images of rural life, except for one retweet stating that Ustad Faizullah Jalal had been arrested following his criticism of the Taliban.
At the time of writing, the name and banner of the account are identical to that of a popular YouTube channel, as well as a Facebook account by the same name. However, the phone number used to register the Twitter profile of @OURVILLAGE111 does not correspond with the telephone number advertised in the banner and across the other known ‘Our Village’ platforms, casting doubt on a possible association.
On January 10, Hasina Jalal posted several screenshots of an email exchange with Twitter Support services on January 5 when she tried to report the @UstadJalal1 account for impersonation. In the same post, Hasina Jalal stated that her father had never had a Twitter account, implying all accounts carrying Ustad Faizullah Jalal’s name are fake or run by third parties. Since the arrest, several Twitter profiles that appeared to be related to the Jalal family have been flagged as being ‘fake’. Ustad Faizullah Jalal was reportedly released from prison on January 11.
Assuming Hasina’s claims are legitimate - which the email exchange with Twitter several days before Jalal’s arrest appears to confirm – there are several possible reasons for the account. The account may have been a misplaced effort by an activist to use Jalal’s recognition to push anti-Taliban messages, it could be a deliberate attempt by a third party to get him into trouble with the Taliban for unknown reasons, or an effort to goad the Taliban into making an unpopular move by detaining Jalal - in which case it was successful. Finally, it could have been an effort by the Taliban or elements associated with them to create grounds for his arrest, although the speed of his release would cast doubt on this, or suggest they miscalculated the public backlash and backed down.
The arrest of Jalal has triggered fear among those who have criticised the Taliban.
After seizing Kabul last August, the Taliban promised women’s rights and media freedom, and claimed they believed in freedom of speech. However, media regulations and a ban on non pre-approved protests has cast doubt on such claims.
Commentary published on Taliban website ‘Al Emarah’ on January 11 states that the idea of freedom of expression had been suffering from widespread misuse by “[...] so called intellectuals with Western and secular ideas''.
According to the author, freedom of expression had been exploited by some individuals in Afghanistan to discredit the Islamic system, by encouraging people to take a stand against an absolute Islamic system, undermining national unity, and demanding ‘western’ rights for women.