Afghanistan's intelligence agency has publicly acknowledged that it is holding two activists who exposed allegations of sexual abuse of children in eastern Afghanistan.
Human rights groups and others have been pointing fingers at the National Directorate for Security since the activists, Musa Mahmoudi and Ehsanullah Hamidi, disappeared on November 21.
The two had revealed that at least 546 boys from six schools in Logar province were abused by a pedophile ring that included teachers and local government officials.
Their organization, the Logar Youth, Social and Civil Institution, discovered more than 100 videos on Facebook that showed the abuse.
The government is under intense pressure from activists and influential politicians, like former president Hamid Karzai, to release the activists.
The "Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission is deeply concerned about the illegal detention of civil society activists, Mr. Musa Mahmudi and Ehsanullah Hamidi, who were investigating the cases of alleged child sexual abuse in Logar province," tweeted Afghanistan's human rights body.
In its statement Tuesday, the NDS claimed the two were moved to a safe location for protection against threats to their lives. The agency also claimed that the two had revealed during interrogations that they made up the child abuse allegations, in order to get asylum in a foreign country.
The agency also released a video of the two in which one of the activists, Mahmoudi, was seen confessing that his research was incomplete and apologizing to the people of Afghanistan and particularly of Logar province.
Without naming the two, President Ashraf Ghani said Monday that it was not acceptable for asylum seekers to undermine the dignity of Afghans.
Human rights groups are rejecting the government's account.
"Instead of punishing them for speaking out against the sexual abuse of children, the authorities should praise them and hold the perpetrators accountable" tweeted Amnesty International's South Asia office.
Before their detention, the activists had reached out to rights groups and some journalists, expressing concern for their safety.
"Hours before his detention, Mussa told the Guardian (newspaper) how he had been receiving threats and believed he was under surveillance by Afghan security services," reported The Guardian Monday.
According to The Guardian, which broke the story earlier this month, multiple victims have since been murdered, sometimes by their own relatives.
"Five families killed their sons after their faces were seen on videos posted to social media. Two other boys a 13 and 15-year-old were killed last week, although the perpetrators are unknown," the Guardian story said.