Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Long Delays, Harsh Conditions for Afghans Awaiting Trial
Prisoners in Laghman province in eastern Afghanistan face lengthy delays to their cases and suffer routine mistreatment, according to local residents.
Police officers and prison officials came in for scathing criticism during a debate organised by IWPR last month.
Imranullah Khanjar, a university lecturer and civil society activist, noted recent shocking media exposés of the conditions in Afghan jails. In addition, people held in pre-trial detention often faced lengthy delays in legal proceedings.
“The unjust handling of detainees’ cases by judicial institutions and the long time they take to deal with them have created a gulf between the people and the government,” he said.
Faizanullah Patan, the head of the information and culture department in Laghman’s provincial administration, said the security services often failed to inform the next-of-kin after arresting a suspect. This meant that relatives had no idea where a family member was being held.
“I urge the security agencies to inform the families of detained individuals immediately so that people don't suffer,” he said. “This is a humanitarian issue.”
Laghman police chief Mohammad Daud Amin responded by saying suspects were initially held for 72 hours to give investigators time to collect evidence. Suspects were not beaten or forced into confessing during interrogation and were treated humanely at all times, he said.
As far for conditions in Laghman’s prison, built more than 60 years ago, Amin accepted that there were some problems including a lack of space. He said work on a new jail would start next year, and added that even now, prisoners were provided with opportunities like courses in tailoring and handicrafts.
Debate participant Wal Mohammad Jawed Masrur rejected Amin’s claim that detainees were well-treated, saying that a friend who was currently held at the prison had told him of cases of beating and torture.
“I want you to tell the people of Laghman the truth about this,” he said.
Amin replied that every prison had a human rights office to deal with abuses.
“I can say with confidence that no such inhumane action has happened inside the jail,” he said. “I call on young people like yourself to inform us about such acts if you hear of them.”
Similar concerns about the treatment of prisoners were heard at an event in Sharana, the provincial centre of Paktika in southeast Afghanistan.
Saifullah Haqmal, who spoke on behalf of a prisoner's family, said that detainees were routinely deprived of their basic rights.
“A prisoner is a human being, too, and should be treated according to Islamic and national laws,” he said.
Journalist Mohammad Yasin Yasin said that prisoners in Paktika were prevented from speaking out about alleged abuses, while local media were unable to visit jails. In addition, overcrowding had led to detainees been transferred to other prisons far from their families.
“Some prisoners from the Paktika prison are transferred to jails in Gardez, the centre of Paktia, or elsewhere, because the numbers are so high. This is a major problem, because their families cannot visit them easily,” he added.
Nematullah Baburi, vice-chairman of the provincial council in Paktika, criticised the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) for neglecting southeastern Afghanistan. He complained that the AIHRC had no permanent representative in the region and visited Paktika only infrequently.
“It has done nothing so far to safeguard the rights of prisoners,” he said.
Aziz, a regional representative of the AIHRC, denied these accusations and said his organisation met inmates of Paktika’s prison every two months.
“We can only solve prisoners’ problems on matters of human rights,” he said, noting that prisoners and local residents had asked the AIHRC to build a new jail, something far beyond their remit. “These other problems are for other organisations to handle,” he said.
Debate participant Sayed Abbas Ayubi called on the provincial council to do more to help the prisoners.
Baburi replied that members of the provincial council had visited the jail several times and shared inmates’ concerns with the appropriate institutions.
Defence lawyer Nasr Menallah Sakhizada agreed that people in pre-trial detention faced problems in Paktika as did others all around the country.
“I have seen cases that haven’t been examined for eight months or even a year, and the suspects are still in jail,” he added.
Asadullah Waziri, a lawyer at the Paktika’s appeals court, rejected claims that prisoners faced lengthy delays to their cases.
Waziri said that cases were submitted to the courts on time, and the courts themselves carried out their work on schedule.
The director of Paktika’s prison, Mirzar Tanai, denied that inmates were deprived of their human rights.
However, he did acknowledge that overcrowding had led to many problems, and told the audience that a site been selected for a new prison in Paktika, blueprints had been drawn up and a contract signed with a building company, with work due to start soon.
This report is based on an ongoing series of debates conducted as part of IWPR’s Afghan Youth and Elections programme.
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