Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Prison Probe Exposes Abuses

Local commanders in Afghan provinces are pressuring judges to imprison people on trumped-up charges.
By Ahmad Hanayash

Some local commanders in Afghanistan are using prisons to settle personal scores or extort money from wealthy residents, and one is running his own private jail, a government inquiry has revealed.


A five-member delegation, sent to Parwan and Kapeesa north of Kabul to check on reports of corruption and abuse of power, found 10 prisons in each of the provinces where local commanders were forcing justice authorities to jail people without a proper trial, and heard numerous cases of maltreatment of inmates.


"Our work in these two provinces lasted for some two months, and in this period we visited all areas, big and small. What mainly attracted our attention were the prisons and commanders," Nadir Ali Mehdoy, chairman of the delegation, told IWPR earlier this week.


"We are now drawing up a report which will be presented to the cabinet, and they will decide what to do."


According to local officials, members of the delegation, who were drawn from several ministries including justice and finance, were instructed by Mehdoy to question local people about the situation in the area - without the knowledge of the commanders - and heard about the abuse of prisons.


One prison in the Ghoorband district of Parwan, in an isolated location between two mountains, was run as the private jail by the local commander, with no regard to the judicial processes, delegates discovered. The commander told them the inmates were all Taleban, but the prisoners themselves strongly denied this when the delegation visited.


Inmates of one prison in central Kapeesa, which the delegation was invited to visit by the local commander, told IWPR they were warned by him that they would be severely punished if they complained to the visitors.


Despite the warning, a number of prisoners began complaining loudly about their illegal detention and poor treatment as soon as the delegation, accompanied by soldiers, arrived at the jail. Encouraged by promises from delegation members that they would seek their freedom, other inmates joined in.


"The local prosecutors have colluded with the commanders, with the result that we have spent a long time in jail," one of the prisoners shouted.


They said a number of wealthy people had been imprisoned on the orders of the local commanders on trumped-up charges and had been forced to pay bribes for their release.


Mullah Qasem, who was bringing food and clothing for a cousin in the jail, said, "When we asked the prosecutor why he had jailed our relative illegally, he replied, 'It is nothing to do with us, it is the local commander. They threaten us if we don't do what they say'."


Asked to comment on the prisoners' allegations, the president of the court in nearby Parwan, Abdul Manan, told the delegation, "We know that the people in prison have been treated badly, but we can't do anything because we don't have guns. The law is powerless in the face of arms."


An 18-year-old boy wept as he accused a local commander of trying to kill him and then getting him imprisoned on false evidence.


"A girl, a cousin of a local commander, fell in love with me without my knowledge. He forced the girl to marry another person. As I was crossing the street he shot me. I was taken to hospital and foreign doctors managed to save my life," he told IWPR.


Showing bullet wounds in his stomach, he continued, "When I was well again the commander arrested me and imprisoned me. I was accused of murdering a man who in fact drowned in the river." An orphan who had been looking after younger sisters and brothers, he expressed deep anxiety about their fate. "I don't know how they are because I haven't heard any word of them for nine months."


Sayed Hashem, a prisoner in Parwan, said he had been imprisoned because he was related to a man who stole money from a local hospital. He said he had been in jail for a year, during which he was constantly beaten. "The reason my case is not being heard is that I am constantly being asked for a bribe," he said.


Khalil, who had been working as a security guard at the hospital when the robbery took place, said he been forced into a confession after being beaten. "We are not given any food in the prison, and when our family brings food the guards often eat it," he said.


Javed, a prisoner in Kapeesa, said he was jailed after he had married a girl he had met in Iran. A day after the wedding, he was accused of abducting her and thrown into prison.


The delegation was one of several sent out into the provinces by President Hamed Karzai to investigate reports that local commanders and officials were running illegal checkpoints and imposing taxes and duties on traders passing through the region.


After reading those reports, based on complaints from ordinary people, Karzai fired 28 senior officials from 11 provinces last month, including several police chiefs, on a range of charges including smuggling ancient artefacts and drugs, embezzling customs duties, beatings, robberies and ignoring central government directives.


Karzai, elected president and head of a transitional government in June, warned all provincial governors and officials they would face a similar fate if they were caught acting improperly, and ordered a second wave of investigators to visit the regions.


Delegation head Mehdoy told IWPR, "I am sure the cabinet will have a response to the officials in these two provinces. All the world will soon know about these officials."


Ahmad Hanayash is an independent journalist.


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