Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he had ordered an investigation into an alleged pedophile ring operating in the country's schools, and criticized Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency for detaining two activists who helped expose the scandal.
In a series of tweets on November 26, Ghani said he was "deeply disturbed about the recent reports on sexual abuse" in schools in Logar Province, south of Kabul, and that he instructed the Education Ministry to provide him a “thorough report” on the matter "ASAP."
The move comes after the British newspaper The Guardian earlier this month reported that at least 546 boys from six schools have allegedly been abused by a pedophile ring involving teachers and local officials.
Amid national outrage over the allegations, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) has come under fire for arresting last week two human rights defenders -- Musa Mahmudi and Ehsanullah Hamidi -- who gave interviews about the purported pedophile ring.
The NDS on November 26 described the Guardian report as "baseless" and said Mahmudi's claims in the article were part of a scheme aimed at securing asylum in a foreign country.
But Ghani said he had instructed the intelligence agency to "stop the proceedings" against Mahmudi and Hamidi, adding: “The protection of civil society and human rights defenders is the sole responsibility of the security forces.”
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission expressed deep concern about the detention of the two activists, calling it a “clear contradiction of national laws and human rights standards.”
London-based Amnesty International also called for their immediate release, saying the authorities should hold the suspected perpetrators of “these horrific crimes” accountable, rather than punishing Mahmudi and Hamidi for speaking out against them.
John Bass, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, said he was "deeply disturbed by these Soviet-style tactics” of the NDS.
The ancient practice of "bacha bazi" -- literally, dancing boys -- is common in Afghanistan among wealthy and powerful men who exploit underage boys as sexual partners.