U.N. calls on Taliban to release women's rights activists

GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. human rights chief on Friday called on Afghanistan's Taliban government to release five people the U.N. says were detained during a news conference organised by a women's civil society organisation.

Police disrupted a news conference in Kabul on Thursday intended to launch a new women's movement called 'Afghan Women’s Movement for Equality', the U.N rights office said.

A female activist, Zarifa Yaqobi, and four male colleagues were arrested. The other female participants in the room were also temporarily detained and subject to phone and body searches, before being released, it added.

"We are concerned about the welfare of these five individuals and have sought information from the de facto authorities regarding their detention," said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk via a spokesperson at a Geneva news briefing.

A Taliban spokesperson did not immediately provide a comment and said he would look into the matter.

Rights groups say women's freedoms in Afghanistan have been undermined since the Taliban seized power in August 2021 as international forces backing a pro-Western government pulled out. They point to new curbs on their clothes, movement and education despite earlier Taliban vows to the contrary.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Additional reporting by Mohammad Yunus Yawar in Kabul; Editing by Howard Goller)

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