Women Prisoners in Northern Afghanistan Complain of Bad Conditions and Sexual Abuse
Pajwak Afghan News, January 10, 2005
MAZAR-E-SHARIF - Women prisoners in the central jail, in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif have complained of the lack of health care, heating and food in the jails where they are held. The female inmates claim that the prison conditions are dire and they claim that they are sexually abused, but the prison authorities have denied these allegations categorically. Some eleven women and two children, held in this prison, have to live in cold cells during these winter months. But they say they want to change their living conditions in the prisons. A teacher, Sayed Bigum from the Shaikh Shahabuddin School in the capital city is spending a 20-year jail sentence for the murder of her husband. Speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News, she expressed her views about the prison. "This is not a prison; it is a 'Haramsarai' or a harem. Everyone comes and sexually abuses us." But she did not elaborate on who would enter the prisons and commit immoral acts against the women prisoners. Twenty-six year-old Mari, is a resident of Faizabad of Jowzjan province, serving time for the murder of her husband said: "We are prisoners and all kinds of cruelty is committed against us, and there is no one to turn to." But the prison authorities vehemently deny the allegations made by the prisoners and say there are female prison guards to take care of the women. The inspector in charge of the Mazar jail, Mohammad Sharif Ghorbandi, told Pajhwak: "Except for two female guards, no one else is allowed to enter the cells where women prisoners are kept. All these claims made by the women are unfounded." But the Human Rights Commission in Mazar responsible for assessing Afghan prisons says the conditions in these prisons are unbearable. The Commission will be sending an investigative team to the central prison in Mazar, once they have received the women's complaints.
The head of an Afghan children's rights group working within the Human Rights Commission told Pajhwok: "We have not received any complaints about women being sexually abused, and we will immediately send a team led by Roya Dadras to investigate the claims." Mari, hugging her newly-born, one Month old baby says: "Our food is too bad. Four people have to share one blanket and we live in a damp room." The International Committee for the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Society of Mazar-e-Sharif has already donated blankets, quilts and rugs to the prison. But the prisoners say the donation was insufficient to keep them warm in the cold weather, when they have little or no wood to burn. Mohammad Sharif, the inspector of the prison says: "We are under-funded and have asked the international organizations to help us." The prisoners say that their routine meals are bread, rice and beans, with a meal of meat twice a week, but they add that it is not enough for them. But the Mazar prison inspector says: "The food that is provided for the prison officers is also eaten by the prisoners.
"When the Americans came I thought it would be better, but nothing has changed," says Sharifa, with a shy smile.
Sunday Herald, 23 January 2005