Parwan Prisoners Protest Dismal Conditions

Jail officials admit overcrowding but say their efforts to deal with it have come to naught.

By Ramesh Nabizadah in Parwan (ARR No. 354, 2-Mar-10)

Inmates have complained of inhumane conditions in a provincial Afghan prison, amid uncertainty over the progress of their cases and a lack of proper legal representation.

Sayed Mansur, 19, has been in the prison in Parwan province, 64 kilometres north of Kabul, for two years. Charged with the murder of a young girl, he has yet to hear of a trial date.

"For God’s sake convey our voice to the government officials and human rights institutions,” he said. “What the hell is going on? I have been imprisoned for two years because I was accused of murder, but no one deals with my case and I live in the prison with an uncertain future.”

His voice trembling with anger, he continued, "The criminals who have power and money are released, but the poor ones remain here for long periods waiting for their fate to be clarified."

The prison, which holds more than 230 men and 17 women, is in the centre of the town of Charikar. Mansur said that more than 55 prisoners lived in a cell with space for just 20 people. There were no exercise facilities, no appropriate place for visitors and the prison’s four toilets were shared between more than 200 inmates, he went on.

Shamsollah Ahmadzai, director of the regional office of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, AIHRC, which monitors Parwan prison on a monthly basis, agreed that conditions were poor.

“Suspects and criminals live together in this prison,” he said, “while in accordance with the law, suspects [should be] kept separate from criminals and big criminals from small criminals. But they all live together in Parwan prison.”

Colonel Mohammad Mobin Rasuli, director of prisons and detention centres in Parwan province, admitted that overcrowding was a problem.

“If the prisoners complain about room, bathroom, toilets, drinking water, they are right,” he said. “We keep criminals and suspects in the same cells because we have to. This is because there is not enough room in Parwan prison.

"We discussed this problem with high-ranking officials many times, but we did not achieve any positive results, unfortunately.”

Mansur also complained about alleged corruption in the justice system, where both the conditions in which an inmate was held and the result of his trial could be influenced by bribes.

Defence lawyers had also been intimidated by government officials and local warlords, he alleged.

“Some people are even arrested for crimes about which they are not even aware, but they are accused and imprisoned here,” Mansur said.

Abdolbashir Yaqubi, head of the Parwan provincial attorney’s office, strongly denied there was any corruption in his department.

“All claims and allegations of the Parwan province prisoners are baseless and no warlord or governmental influential bodies can interfere in advocates' work,” he said, adding that every inmate knew the reason for his imprisonment.

“All of the prisoners were arrested due to a crime,” he said. “They are not seized in mosques or on roads just like that.”

However, Mohammad Omar Omarzadah, director of the justice department in Parwan province, did not contest the existence of corruption in government offices, explaining that it was a nationwide issue.

"We cannot overlook administrative corruption,” he said. “Therefore, corruption may exist in legal and judicial organisations in Parwan province, but it may not be as massive as the prisoners claim. They accuse some offices of bribery, due to the hostility they have because of their imprisonment.”

He also acknowledged that "some warlords and government bodies will interfere in advocates' affairs when its in their own interest".

Ahmadzai of AIHRC supported the prisoners’ claims that the progress of some cases had been subject to unwarranted delays.

“We [have] requested the directorate of courts and attorney office in Parwan make their decisions more speedily,” he said.

He also claimed that prisoners still had trouble gaining access to legal representation.

“Having a defence attorney is the right of any prisoner,” he said. “However, this problem unfortunately exists in other provinces and... the rights of the prisoners in Parwan in this regard have also been neglected.”

Ramesh Nabizadah is an IWPR trainee reporter.