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Interview: Tajik Prisoners Describe Afghan Justice System

Prisoners at the Pol-e Charkhi Prison (RFE/RL) The notorious Pol-e Charkhi prison on the outskirts of Kabul was the scene of several days of riots in March in which five people were killed and over 25 injured. Haji Mahmud -- one of the prisoners killed in the fighting -- was a Tajik national. RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondent Fakhrodin Kholbekov went undercover to the prison near Kabul to talk to two Tajik prisoners to discuss their cases and how Mahmud was killed. One of the Tajik prisoners, Haidar, is accused of a suicide bombing and is serving a 20-year sentence. Jamshid, the other prisoner, has a six-year sentence for accompanying Mahmud, who was charged with being an Al-Qaeda accomplice. Haidar is from Jirgatal, Tajikistan, and Jamshid is from the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.

Haidar: It has been more than 1 1/2 years [since I've been in prison and since] they have been talking about getting lawyers for us, but so far we don't have any.

RFE/RL: Why were you arrested?

Haidar: I was arrested because of a bomb explosion. But so far they have not proven that I was involved in the explosion.
"We want to return to our home, where we were brought up. Please could you convey this to the prison authorities?"

RFE/RL: Why were you in Afghanistan? What were you doing here?

Haidar: Well it is a long time that we have been here. We came as Tajik refugees. We came when Said Abdullah [Nuri, the head of Tajik Islamic Opposition,] came to Afghanistan to run away from the civil war in Tajikistan.

RFE/RL: What do you think will happen to you now? Do you want to go back to Tajikistan?

Haidar: Well that all depends on the decisions that are made. I would naturally want to go back, but first they told us "you will be executed," then they said "you will get 20 years," and now I don't know. There are no lawyers to come and see us, there is no one to help, we just don't know what to expect. Maybe if somebody came and talked to us and told us what is happening we would be in a position to say what we want to do. But no one does.

Jamshid: I am 22 years old and I am from Dushanbe. I went to Pakistan to study. I could not make a living for myself in Pakistan; I had a hard time and I decided to go back. I spent many years in Pakistan; I was studying in the madrasahs and I also worked in shops.

RFE/RL: Where did you work?

Jamshid: In Peshawar. I was working in all different types of shops and markets. They wanted to employ me because I knew Russian and Persian and understood Pashto as well. I came over to go from Afghanistan to Tajikistan and I was staying at Haji Mahmud's house. Early in the morning they came to the house and arrested us. We were bringing back goods for Haji Mahmud. He was quite a wealthy man -- a Tajik national, too -- he had five or six cars. He was married and had two wives and many children.

They arrested us all and for the first 12 months we were just detained at the local station. Then they took us to court. The police said we were Al-Qaeda and terrorists. We said "why don't you prove it.... Show us if you have proof; have you seen us acting anywhere or doing anything out of the ordinary?" I asked them to give me evidence and if he had seen something I had done wrong, I would be happy to be executed for my crime. I also told them that this would be a terrible embarrassment for my country, too, because it looks as if Tajiks are involved with Al-Qaeda. I begged [them] to prove my guilt. Finally, the only reply I had was that I had entered the country illegally and I was to stay in jail. One court gave me two years, another gave 1 1/2 years, the third one gave me six years. Haji Mahmud also got eight years. Now we have been here for about four years.

RFE/RL: How many Tajiks are there here?

Jamshid: Well there were four or five of us. One -- Haji Mahmud -- was killed, the other one is now praying so he can't talk to you but he has had pretty much the same story as us. Haji Mahmud was very badly treated here. He was beaten up daily.

Pol-e Charkhi Prison (epa)

RFE/RL: Why was he singled out?

Jamshid: Because he always challenged the authorities to bring proof of his guilt. Somehow he knew the law and spoke about legal procedures. He always addressed them in legal terms. They beat him up. They said he was the one who started the riots and then they shot him.

RFE/RL: What do you want now from the authorities?

Jamshid: We want to go back to Tajikistan. We just came over with some Afghan guys thinking we could study and work in Peshawar and now we want to return to our home, where we were brought up. Please could you convey this to the prison authorities?

(translated by Massoumeh Torfeh)

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

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