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.