ISLAMABAD - An international rights group on Monday demanded authorities in Afghanistan immediately release two local human rights defenders who exposed an alleged pedophile ring involved in the abuse of hundreds of school children.
In a statement, Amnesty International accused Afghanistan's intelligence agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS), of “arbitrarily” detaining Mussa Mahmoudi and Ehsanullah Hamidi in the eastern Logar province where the abuses occurred.
The activists were on their way to meet with the European Union ambassador in Kabul last Thursday when NDS operatives rounded them up, said the group.
Neither the Afghan government nor the NDS have responded to the allegations.
“Rather than punishing them for speaking out against these horrific crimes, the authorities should praise them for their work and hold the suspected perpetrators accountable through fair trials and without recourse to the death penalty,” said Samira Hamidi, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International
Speaking in Kabul, former President Hamid Karzai called for the immediate release of the human rights defenders, "if the NDS arrested them."
Mahmoudi and Hamidi began receiving threats, including from local officials in Logar, on social media after they gave interviews to domestic and foreign media about the existence of the pedophile ring in the area, according to relatives.
The activists were part of a civil society investigation that uncovered more than 100 videos of the alleged abuse, asserting that some victims were murdered. The probe alleged that the ring included school teachers, headwaters and provincial officials.
Local officials and some Afghan lawmakers have rejected and denounced the allegations as propaganda.
Afghan Education Minister Mirwais Balkhi tweeted last week that he had ordered an urgent investigation into the allegations after meeting provincial authorities "to assess and study the accusations.”
Amnesty decried the targeting of human rights defenders in Afghanistan.
“Faced with threats from both the state and non-state actors, they are operating in some of the most hazardous conditions anywhere in the world. There is impunity for attacks on these brave defenders, who have little to no protection,” the group said.