By Mukhtar Vafaei and NilofarLangar, Translated by Asadullah Jafari “Pezhman”
No organization, including the United Nations, has been allowed to visit the Taliban prisons in the last ten months. So, in this investigative report, Independent Farsi publishes stories from inside Taliban prisons. Amir, a National Directorate of Security (NDS) officer in the previous Afghan government, still has a scar left by red hot burning coal on his right thigh that a Taliban policeman placed during an investigation night in prison.
Showing this wound, Amir said: “Three people from the Taliban tortured me continuously for several nights and repeatedly asked how many mujahids [Taliban] you martyred?” Amir added that “I did not have an answer to the Taliban’s question. I repeatedly told them that I was not in the war fields and had mostly worked in the National Directorate of Security administrative”. Amir had nothing to say in response because he was not in the war fields, and during his six years of working with NDS, he had never faced the Taliban forces.
The Taliban arrested Mr. Amir on November 10 last year, at the passport office in Bamyan Province when he was about to take the biometric step for getting his passport. The Taliban didn’t say anything to him when he was arrested, but after they went to the prison of the police headquarters, they tied his hands and feet. One of the Taliban members said to him: “You are under arrest because you killed our Mujahideen, and now you want to leave Afghanistan by getting a passport.”
Amir’s wife was also a member of the police forces in the Ministry of Interior of Afghanistan, but she was not arrested because she already had a passport. Amir is one of the 15 people who shared his experience in the Taliban prison with Independent Farsi reporters.
In this investigative report, Independent Farsi recounts the experiences of people in Afghanistan’s Taliban prisons in the last ten months. Most people interviewed in this report refused to give their names due to fear of being rearrested by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Independent Farsi also only mentions the first names or nicknames of the interviewees in this report.
Who are Kept in Taliban Prisons?
In the last ten months, no organization or institution, including the special rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council, was allowed to visit the prisons controlled by the Taliban to monitor the conditions of the prisoners in Afghanistan. During this period, some foreign journalists, with severe restrictions and in a managed manner, were able to prepare reports from some Taliban prisons. However, this access was limited by the presence of responsible commanders in Taliban prisons.
Therefore, Sky News reporter Alex Crawford visited a Taliban prison in Herat province in western Afghanistan in early February 2022. In his report, he said that the Taliban commander prevented them from continuing the conversation while talking to the prisoners. (https://b2n. ir/skynews. com. herat).
Hugo Shorter, the chargé d’affaires of the British Embassy in Afghanistan who carries out his mission from Qatar – was also able to meet the British citizens. They were in Taliban prison on February 23 during his trip to Kabul. Peter Juvenal, a British citizen, was arrested and jailed in early December last year while trying to invest in Afghanistan mines. Peter Juvenal and four other Britons were released from Taliban prison on June 20. David Levine, one of Peter Juvenal’s friends, told Independent Farsi in February that British diplomats, including Hugo Shorter, were allowed to meet for 12 minutes with Peter Juvenal and another British citizen. They were held in the prison of the Taliban Intelligence Directorate. According to Levin, there was no opportunity to talk in detail in this meeting, and Peter Juvenal could not speak clearly due to the presence of Taliban soldiers.
The number of foreign citizens who are kept in Taliban prisons is unknown. However, people who have had the experience of being in Taliban prisons in different provinces of Afghanistan said that they had seen people from the UK, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan in these prisons. The prisons of the Taliban are managed by the two security institutions of this group, namely the Ministry of Interior under the supervision of Sirajuddin Haqqani and the Intelligence Department under the control of Maulvi Abdulhaq Vathiq, and each of them has separate prisons.
Sarfraz is a defense lawyer in Balkh province in the north of Afghanistan. he was arrested twice by the Taliban and spent 45 days in jail. He said: “Most of the people who are kept in the prison of the Taliban Intelligence Directorate are accused being members of the Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) and cooperation with the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan and Kidnapping have been imprisoned. ”
Sarfraz was imprisoned on the charge of acting as a lawyer for the anti-Taliban commanders in the previous government. He said that his crime was political, and he was kept and tortured in the prison of the intelligence department. Sarfraz was arrested for the first time on February 2 in the center of Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. He said that he was tortured continuously for three days, did not know what he was accused of, and the Taliban did not tell him anything.
After three days, a Taliban prison officer said to him that he had been arrested on various charges, the most important of which were cooperation with jihadist commanders of the previous government, possession of weapons, and receiving bribes while acting as a lawyer. Sarfraz worked as an independent defense lawyer in the previous government of Afghanistan and was a member of the Independent Defense Lawyers Association of Afghanistan, which was canceled by the Taliban right now.
Sarfraz said: “I told the Taliban that I don’t have a weapon because I didn’t need a weapon in my work; I didn’t take a bribe, but I got paid wages from those I worked for them. I have worked for different people and with different positions, because my work is advocacy, and it doesn’t matter whose case I take over. ”
So, Sarfraz added that it was difficult for the Taliban to understand that he was a defense lawyer and that he received wages for his work because the Taliban called the fees he received for his work a bribe. Mansour, another prisoner who spent 65 days in Balkh Central Prison, which the Taliban’s Ministry of Interior runs, said that most people are detained in the prisons of the Taliban’s Ministry of Interior on charges of criminal offenses, theft, and violence.
Mansour added that children and teenagers are one of the biggest groups in the Taliban Ministry of Interior prisons. He said that many teenagers under the age of 18 are in prison for being active on social networks and sharing content against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Ruhollah is the pseudonym of a journalist living in Balkh province who was arrested on the charge of “Propaganda Against the Taliban Regime” and imprisoned for two months in the Taliban intelligence prison. Ruhollah also confirmed the presence of teenagers under 18 in the Taliban intelligence prison. Ruhollah, detained for two months in the prison of the Taliban Intelligence Directorate in Balkh province, said that along with the adults who are being held in the prison of the Taliban Intelligence Directorate.
Additionally, along with the adults accused of cooperating with the National Resistance Front and providing financial support, advertising, and buying weapons for this front, there are nearly ten teenagers. Children under 18 have also been arrested and imprisoned on the charge of sharing content in support of the Resistance Front on Facebook.
According to Ruhollah, the Taliban’s treatment is the same as those arrested and imprisoned for being a member of and supporting the National Resistance Front and the teenagers imprisoned for sharing content related to the Resistance Front on Facebook.
Ruhollah was arrested in early April after he wrote an article about the increase in unemployment and poverty on his Facebook page and said that instead of being a journalist, he would sell juice on the side of the street. After his arrest and interrogation, the Taliban told him his article was an example of propaganda against the Taliban system. Because the article stated that “with the Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan, unemployment has increased.”
The Knowledge sources who had experience in Taliban prisons in Balkh, Herat, Ghor, Panjshir, Kapisa, Parwan, Badakhshan, Kabul, Faryab, and Bamyan, said Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek citizens make up the majority of prisoners. And the presence of Pashtun citizens in prisons of these provinces is few. Most Pashtun prisoners in Taliban prisons have been arrested on charges such as membership in the Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K), kidnapping, conspiracy against the Taliban government, and murder. Some Taliban members from different ethnic groups, especially Pashtuns, are also kept in prison.
In November last year, Mansour was in the Taliban’s central prison in Mazar-e-Sharif. He said that among the 230 prisoners in that prison in November, four were Pashtuns, and the rest were Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks. These four people, named Khanjari, Bilal, Dayan, and Khushal Khan, were former prisoners of the Taliban. They were kept in the Alborz mountain area and were transferred to the central prison in Mazar-e-Sharif after the collapse of the previous Afghan government.
Mansour said: “These people were arrested and imprisoned for betraying the Taliban, but in prison, they were lording and leadering over the rest of the prisoners.” He added: “Khushal Khan, who was the leader of these four Pashtun prisoners, his name was also on the list of prison guards, and he had access to weapons and sometimes stood guard at night.”
Ahmad Shah, born in Panjshir, and a resident of Kabul, was arrested and imprisoned on June 2, when he was taking the wedding invitation cards of one of his family members to Pujaveh village in Panjshir province. Ahmad Shah said that when the Taliban arrested and beat him violently, he had 30 invitation cards from his relatives with him. The Taliban told him that these cards might carry a message from the leader of the National Resistance Front to the forces of this front. Ahmad Shah added: “I was tortured for three weeks in the Taliban prison in Panjshir, without having committed a crime.”
Regarding the ethnic composition of the prisoners in the Taliban prison in Panjshir, he said: “During the three weeks I was in prison, I saw only one Pashtun person who was arrested from Dareh district. He was a gardener and a resident of Paktia province and had been gardening in Panjshir for several years. The rests were all Tajiks and natives of Panjshir province. ”
Abdul Jabbar, a political activist, was arrested in Kabul on September 10 and spent three months in the prison of the Kabul Intelligence Directorate. He said that he did not see a single non-Pashtun in the structure of the Taliban Intelligence Directorate. Some Taliban members accused of robbery, murder, and kidnapping were arrested and present among the prisoners. But they had better facilities and space than other prisoners. The ethnic composition of prisoners may vary from province to province. However, prisoners in the northern and central provinces of Afghanistan said the largest number of prisoners were non-Pashtuns, especially Tajiks.
The Women’s Experiences from the Taliban Prisons
In early September 2021, with the beginning of women’s street protests against the Taliban’s restrictive laws, many protesting women were arrested on various pretexts. Some women were arrested at their workplaces, some in their homes, and some at protest gatherings on the streets. The narratives of several detained women about the type of torture and imprisonment by the Taliban have many similarities.
Some of them said they were not transferred to the central prison, the Pul-e-Charkhi women’s prison in Kabul, and were only tortured and interrogated in the Taliban intelligence prison. These women said that the Taliban kept each of the women in solitary cells and subjected them to physical and mental torture during the interrogation.
One of these women, who was arrested in November and released in late December, said that from her arrest to her release, she had not seen any women among the Taliban forces in prison. While the Taliban strongly emphasize the Islamic laws, the mahram, and the non-mahram of men and women. This woman, who experienced torture in the Taliban intelligence prison, said: “There was no woman, and even when we had our period, there was no one to help us and bring us the necessary equipment.”
However, none of these women spoke about being raped in the Taliban prison. One of them said: “When the Taliban people entered my room, they told me: “Cover your dirty face because you are not mahram,” but they punched, kicked, and cursed me a lot.
The imprisoned women said that during interrogation and torture. The Taliban kept asking them which organization and country they received money from to protest against the Taliban, how much money they received from the office of UNAMA (United Nations Political Assistant in Afghanistan), to protest against the Taliban and from where do they get orders? They said that during their stay in prison, they were tortured mostly with slaps on the face along with insults and cursing, punches, kicks, and electric shocks.
“I endured a lot of cold and hunger,” said one of the female prisoners. Some women have suffered severe physical injuries due to severe beatings and are still undergoing treatment. Independent Farsi reporter refuses to reveal the details of these injuries due to the identities of these women have not been disclosed.
In addition, the women interviewed said that the Taliban took forced confession videos from them before releasing them. These women told in the forced confession videos that they were dictated to say they took money from some organizations and protested against the Taliban, intending to leave Afghanistan. The Taliban have not released these videos yet. The Taliban released a confessional video of a group of female protesters in mid-February, but individual videos of the prisoners have not yet been released.
One of the protesting women said: “The Taliban did not publish the confession videos for this reason because they did not officially confirm our arrest in the media. But they have kept the videos to publish them in case of our violation, i. e. , returning to protest and litigation. “In the first months of the Taliban coming to power, the first group of women they arrested was protesting girls in Balkh province in the north of Afghanistan. Relatives of Balkhi protesting girls who were arrested on September 7th and 8th, 2021, told Independent Farsi that at that time, some of the women were subjected to severe torture, rape, and even murder and assassination after their release from the Taliban prison.
In addition to the protesting women, many other women are also in special women’s prisons in major cities and Kabul’s Pul-e-Charkhi Prison for various reasons and what the Taliban has called Prostitution and Denials. One of the women who spent from the beginning of March to the end of May in Pul-e-Charkhi prison told Independent Farsi that more than 200 women were incarcerated in the prison where she was imprisoned, and they were in a difficult situation.
She said: “One of the women was pregnant, and her delivery time was very close, but there was no medicine, no medic, and no possibility to help her. This woman was in a severe health condition. ” She said women Pul-e-Charkhi prison are mostly imprisoned for the crimes of running away from home, theft, activities against the Taliban, and what is considered prostitution in the eyes of the Taliban.
The Torture Methods: From Shooting in the Palm to Needling the Penis
Sarfraz woke up in the middle of the night in February after several hours of anesthesia. He found himself in a cold, bare stone floor room. He was taken out of the prison of the Taliban intelligence department that night and tortured in a garden by the former government officials. He said that after they put the water hose in my mouth and the water entered my stomach, till he passed out. After enduring 45 days of torture, Sarfraz was released from the Taliban prison and was arrested again in late May in Mazar-e-Sharif city.
The Taliban do not follow an exact written order and law regarding the torture and treatment of prisoners. Arrested people are beaten and tortured in most cases before the charges are proven and at the arrest scene. Mansour was the owner of a contracting company that worked with foreign troops and the army of the former Afghan government. He was arrested on September 20 in Mazar-e-Sharif and spent 65 days in the Taliban’s prison in Mazar-e-Sharif city.
During this time, he was subjected to various methods of torture by the Taliban. Mansour said that torture in the prison yard is a common thing that Taliban commanders hold every morning and night. He added that many children under 18 have been arrested and imprisoned for crimes, such as stealing mobile phones and expensive objects from shops and suffering the most severe tortures in Taliban prisons.
Mansour said about the torture of one of the children, who was about 14 years old and was accused of stealing a mobile phone: “One morning in early November, the Taliban took all the prisoners out of their rooms to watch the torture of the 14-year-old child.” Two Taliban soldiers tortured the child accused of robbery with a wire cable and beat him on the head, face, hands, and feet.” He added: “Einuddin Islamyar, the person in charge of block 3 of the prison, who first tortured and then freed the child accused of theft, was also present at the torture scene. He suddenly got angry and took his Kalashnikov weapon or AK-47 and shot in the child’s palm with a bullet. ” Mansour added: The child was running in the prison yard with a hand full of blood, screaming and asking for help, but no one dared approach him.
The Torture methods in Taliban prisons include electric shocks and hanging a person from the room’s ceiling. The rope is tied to the right leg and left hand, tying the person to a chair while beating the soles of the feet with a cable, tying the hands and feet from behind, which the Taliban call to it. “The King Bird.” They put a water hose into the prisoner’s mouths until their stomach swells from the water, and passes out. Placing a piece of fire on his leg, suffocating him with hands, immersing a person’s head in a water tanker and shooting in the palm, which the interviewees witnessed during their imprisonment.
The Death by Torture
A member of the Taliban was a resident of Kandahar province and had defrauded the Taliban officials in Balkh province. He died in October 2021 in the prison of the Taliban Intelligence Directorate under torture with electric shocks. At that time, Mansour was in the Taliban’s central jail in Mazar-e-Sharif. Said he witnessed the body of a member of the Taliban named “Haji Sahib” being transferred from the prison of the Intelligence Directorate to the central jail and handed over to his family members who came from Kandahar in Mazar-e Sharif.
After being arrested, this Taliban member was kept in the central prison of Mazar-e Sharif for three days and then transferred to the prison of the Intelligence Department. Based on the narrative of the Taliban prison guards, Mansour said “Haji Sahib” had gone to Mazar-e-Sharif with a fake order from the Taliban leader a week after the collapse of the Afghanistan government. Haji Sahib had asked Maulvi Qudratullah Hamza, the Taliban governor, to give him 150 American M4 guns and five armored Hilux vehicles to take to Kandahar.
While collecting these items, Maulvi Qudratullah Hamza contacted the Taliban officials in Kabul and found out that the order was fake. Haji Sahib, a veteran member of the Taliban group, planned to smuggle these guns and vehicles to Pakistan. According to Mansour, the Taliban prison guards said Haji Sahib was about 60 years old, and during the torture with electric shocks, his heart failed, and he died.
Rahimullah, a former police officer in Ghor province, was arrested on October 15 last year and imprisoned in the Taliban’s central prison in that province. He said the Taliban in Ghor operates as a network, and any commander who arrests a person is responsible for torture, confession, and determining the prison term. Rahimullah added: “At night, the Taliban commanders come to the prison and take the arrested people with them. Each of the Taliban commanders tortures the person they want in the special places. After being tortured, the prisoners are taken back to prison.”
Rahimullah added that the Taliban commanders find witnesses to accuse the prisoners, and most of the witnesses are members of the Taliban. The latter’s names are included in the prisoners’ files as witnesses. If one day the Taliban court decides on these people, the basis of the decision will be the testimony of the same people who are witnesses for the Taliban. This police officer of the previous Afghan government was released from the Taliban prison in exchange for payment and a guarantee of ethnic influencers. He said it is common to take videos of forced confessions from prisoners in Taliban prisons.
Nematullah Osmani, from Deh-e-Molla village in Bagrami district of Parwan province, was arrested on Saturday evening, April 9, and the Taliban left his half-lifeless body in front of his house around eight o’clock in the morning on Sunday. While Nematullah was half dead and breathing, the Taliban shot several bullets at his body and left. Moments later, the residents of the village and Nematullah’s relatives came on his lifeless body and chanted “Down with Taliban. ” In the video taken from this scene. It could be seen that Nematullah’s toenails and some teeth were pulled.
One of Nematullah’s relatives said that he was arrested on charges of being a member of the National Resistance Front and during torture to get a confession. The Taliban pulled some of his teeth and two nails from his left and right feet. Therefore, On Thursday, June 2, the people of the Taliban intelligence department left the lifeless body of a man named Abdul Munir Amini in front of his house in the village of Malsapa in Bazaarak of Panjshir province. This man was a cattle farmer and was arrested while taking food to his shepherds in the mountainous areas of Panjshir.
On the condition of anonymity, one of Abdul Munir’s relatives told Independent Farsi that he was arrested on charges of collaborating with the National Resistance Front and died during Taliban torture.
The Mental Torture Along with Physical Torment
Men and women who had the experience of being imprisoned by the Taliban talked about different ways of mental torture in addition to physical torture. Some of these women said the Taliban told them during interrogation that the Taliban court had sentenced them to stoning, execution, or amputation. One of the women said: “They told me to say your words, confess, you are going to be stoned soon.”
Another woman narrated the midnight sermons of a Taliban member and said a member of the Taliban came to the room where I was kept and talked for hours about the divine punishment and hell they said awaited us. The imprisoned men have similar experiences. Some of these people said the Taliban soldiers used to visit their cells in the mid of the night and told them that the final sentence of the Taliban court had been issued against them and this sentence was death or stoning, and they would be executed soon.
In the first months of Taliban rule, several executions were carried out in the prisons of Herat, Helmand, and some other cities of Afghanistan. This news put the prisoners under severe psychological pressure.
The Money Can Protect You in Taliban Prisons
Those like Mullah Abdul Ghafoor, the owner of Kefaiat Company, are targeted and imprisoned for extortion and levy. Many others are also arrested on various charges, including legal disputes and political and criminal charges. They can be released from prisons by paying a considerable amount of money to Taliban officials and commanders. Mullah Abdul Ghafoor was arrested on April 16 for being involved in the mysterious case of kidnapping Abdul Raouf, a child from Balkh province. He was released from prison after paying US $430,000 to the Taliban.
Mansour, the owner of a contracting company in Balkh, was released after 65 days of imprisonment by paying US $11,000. A month later, the Taliban arrested and imprisoned his father on the charge that he still kept weapons in his house. Mansour then paid another three-thousand-dollar bribe to a senior Taliban official in Balkh to release his father.
During the 65 days Mansour was in prison, he paid $10 every night to one of the correctional officers to receive the food his family sent. “Even if you have the most serious crime, money can protect you in Taliban prison,” he said. Mansour added that smoking is prohibited in Taliban prisons. However, he and a group of his friends had a better environment inside prison thanks to paying bribes. He used to buy a pack of cigarettes for $25 from the Taliban prison guards, whereas this pack is sold in the city’s shops for $5. Abdullah Tawakli, the former assistant of Karim Khalili, one of the Hazara political leaders, was arrested on April 14 in Kabul and spent 14 days in the prison of the Taliban intelligence agency; he was released from jail by paying US $6000.
Abdullah said that when he was arrested, he had $400 in cash, and then the prison guards took it from him. Abdullah Tawakli noted: “In addition to the $6,000 I paid for my release, every time my family came to see me in prison, we paid $300 to the prison guards to allow them to enter to visit me.”
Rahmat, a resident of Balkh province, was arrested in November and was in Taliban prison for about two months. He was released after giving his only personal car to the Taliban prison guard. Rahmat was arrested and imprisoned on charges of being a member of anti-Taliban popular armed groups supported by the previous Afghan government.
Most of the people who had the experience of being arrested and imprisoned in Afghanistan in the last ten months have somehow been released from Taliban prisons by paying cash, giving their cars, or agreeing to cooperate with the Taliban to trap other people. People have been released from Taliban prisons to spy for this group under pressure and threats from the Taliban. They have to visit the intelligence office of this group every one or two weeks and declare that they have not gone anywhere. If the person disobeys their commitment, the guarantors will be arrested and tortured by the Taliban.