A tale of two men in modern, democratic Afghanistan, seven years after ‘liberation’. Both charged with serious crimes, both cases receiving a significant amount of publicity.
General Abdul Rashid Dostum, former Northern Alliance commander and warlord with a private army, has been charged over the abduction and abuse of a father and son who ended up in hospital with serious injuries including internal damage. Pervez Kambaksh, a 23 year old student of journalism, is accused of downloading a report from the Internet on women’s rights which was deemed to be un-Islamic and distributing it to others in the faculty.
Mr Kambaksh was sentenced to death and has been in prison for the last six months sharing a 10 by 12 metre cell with 34 others, with his appeal hearings repeatedly postponed. General Dostum, who has an arrest warrant issued against him, spends his time between his homes in Kabul and Shibirghan where his militia is said to be rearming. He uses his private radio station to warn that there “will be bad consequences” if legal proceedings against him are not dropped.
In recent days, President Hamid Karzai has been the target of yet another assassination attempt and has signed a hundred execution orders. The Afghan parliament has passed bills banning women from using make-up, men from wearing jewellery and local television stations from showing Indian soap operas. This is the same parliament which had taken it upon itself to confirm the death sentence on Pervez, a motion proposed by Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, a key ally of Mr Karzai.
Pervez’s brother, Yaqub Ibrahimi, is also a journalist and has written articles for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting in which he has accused senior public figures, including an MP, of atrocities, including murders. He believes that the charge against Pervez is a warning to the media in general against such investigations. Pervez has been granted leave to appeal and the international pressure his case has generated may ensure that he is actually freed in the near future but only because the Afghan government is increasingly embarrassed about the affair.
He has been moved from prison in Mazar-i-Sharif to Kabul. I visited Pervez at Balkh prison where 360 prisoners are packed into a facility for 200, in conditions which even the Afghan authorities acknowledge are unacceptable. He was, however, allowed to mix with other prisoners there, while in the Afghan capital he is being held in solitary.The authorities in Kabul decreed that the media should not get access to Pervez and I had to go into the jail with an Afghan journalist colleague under the guise of a member of the public visiting a relation. Pervez recounted the court case,
“What they call my trial lasted just four minutes in a closed court. I was told I was guilty and the decision was that I was going to die. They normally sit for just a few hours in the afternoon. I was into the court just before it shut at 4o’clock. There were three judges and a prosecutor and some details of the case were repeated. One of the judges then said to me that I have been found guilty and the sentence was death. I tried to argue but they talked to me like a criminal, they just said I would be taken back to the prison.”
A second visit to the prison proved to be more awkward. My Afghan colleague and I were ‘clocked’ quite rapidly and told that we must explain ourselves to the prison governor. We were produced, in fact, before General Taj Mohammed, chief of the prison services for northern Afghanistan, who apparently had a reputation for being a ‘hard man’. But the General, in one of those surprises Afghanistan often seem to have in store, declared that it was “very wrong” to sentence the young student to death and that he should be freed as soon as possible.”
Pervez probably does not even know this, I have spoken to the prosecutors here saying this should not have happened. They said it was the judges who had convicted him. Judge Mohammed Omar Ishaqzai, the deputy chief of the Mazar court, agreed that Pervez should have the right of appeal with legal representation if this had been denied in the past. He was in India receiving medical treatment at the time of the original trial and had now been asked to review the case. He has all the case files and I asked him if it would be possible to clarify exactly what the offending Internet report stated, as there was some confusion about the details.
“That I do not know,” he said. “I cannot bear to look at them, I am sure they are blasphemous and I think I will be upset.”
While Pervez waits for this highly logical legal system to determine what happens to him, what of General Dostum? The Attorney General, Abdul Jabar Sadat stressed “the case is that someone enters a house in the middle of Kabul city 500 meters from the presidential palace, beats the people in that house, kidnaps and abuses them. If the law is not implemented against General Dostum, there is no law at all.” So has the law been implemented against General Dostum? No, the warlord is now busy preparing to run as a candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections.