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Police Raid “Dens of Iniquity”

Some guesthouse owners complain that they have been unfairly targeted in campaign against illicit business.

Kabul police have started cracking down on foreign restaurants and guesthouses which they say are selling sex and alcohol to Afghans.

Nine establishments in the capital have been closed, and according to a senior official this number is likely to rise.

Police say their enquiries began after the interior minister received reports of illicit activities, as well as a letter from the supreme court said to reflect complaints from the public.

A legal advisor to the interior minister, Abdul Jabar Sabet, is leading the investigation and says that during their enquiries, police found one venue which was neither a guesthouse nor a restaurant but had been granted a licence by the ministry of tourism.

"Nothing but alcohol was being served, and foreign girls were involved in immoral acts with Afghan men," he said. "There were seven women standing at the bar, where they would serve alcohol to customers. When we checked their permit, the place was described as a guesthouse, which it wasn’t. There were no beds, no registration book and no dining room.

"In one room we found four Afghan men with three foreign girls and in another two Afghan men with a woman."

Seven local men and five foreign girls have been arrested, and Sabet said some of the latter would probably be deported.

"This is an ongoing investigation and other establishments could be closed and more arrests made," he said.

"Genuine guesthouses and restaurants where alcohol is sold only to internationals will be allowed to continue. And outsiders will still be able to have drinks in their homes or hotel rooms where no Afghans are present."

Some legitimate guesthouse operators have complained about the heavy-handed tactics the police have used in conducting the investigation. One said he had been physically assaulted by the police while other complained they had lost customers.

Farid, an Afghan who works at a Chinese restaurant, said their armed police guard was removed following the raid. "This makes customers feel insecure," he said. "Now the employees are in charge of security, but business has fallen away quite dramatically. Customers do not like to see police bursting in."

Farid admitted, "Before the raid high ranking [Afghan] police and military officers would come and drink alcohol. But now no Afghans are allowed."

Mohammad Kabir Aimaq, head of the Afghan Card company who has a nine per cent interest in the restaurant, admits some officers used to drink there, but says, "We instructed our employees that no one but internationals should be admitted."

Edward Girardet, an American journalist who owns Chez Ana, a guesthouse popular with international journalists and aid consultants, recounted his own unpleasant brush with the police, "I was having a private dinner party at home when nine men in civilian clothes entered the living room, uninvited and unannounced.

"Several of them were armed. When I asked their business, they said they were from the ministry of interior and I asked to see their identification.”

Girardet said he asked the senior officer for his ID, “but he then began physically assaulting me by shoving me backwards and screaming in my face that I was under arrest. I was aggressively manhandled by several men to a waiting vehicle and locked inside under armed guard for an hour and a half. I was finally released but with no apology.

"I later learned that the intrusion was part of a crackdown on corruption and houses of disrepute, but this was never explained to me.”

IWPR has obtained a copy of a three-page letter of complaint Girardet has sent to President Hamed Karzai, in which he outlines his treatment.

"As a journalist and friend of Afghanistan for more than 25 years, I have never been treated by Afghans with such rudeness and disregard for the rule of law,” he concluded.

Sabet, who led the investigation at Chez Ana, maintained that the guesthouse has been operating without proper authorisation.

Girardet denies this, saying the required permission had been granted by the tourism department.

Hisamuddin Hamrah, the head of the official agency in charge of tourism, said his department issues permits only on condition that the venue owner obeys the law.

"I welcome the closure of places which have violated Afghan law," he said. "We obtained pledges that people would operate in accordance with the regulations and constitution of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, some of them didn’t fulfill their promises and engaged in activities contrary to the law and to Islam."

Wahidullah Amani is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.

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