A Report from the
Pol-e-Charkhi Prison in Kabul

Inside view of Pul-e-Charkhi prison after it was captured by the fundamentalists in 1992.

Sent by a RAWA Activist from Kabul - December 1999

I have become acquainted with one of the former employees of the prison who has asked me not to be identified. He is an honest man who hates the Taliban and Jihadis and worked at the prison for a monthly salary of 250,000 Afghanis. He was dismissed because he is from Badakhshan -- an ethnic Tajik. One day I asked him to share some information regarding the situation at the prison. He said the following based on his personal observations.

The Pol-e-Charkhi Prison operates within the structure of the interior ministry and is supervised directly by the security headquarter of Kabul. Until recently, the prison was headed by Mawlavi Sharafoddin, who under the name of religion embezzled as much as he could. After looting the resources of the prison at the price of the lives of many prisoners, he was replaced by some other Taliban from Kandahar. Providing for the logistical and health needs of the prison is supposed to be the responsibility of the interior ministry. But not only the ministry can't provide for the prisonors' needs, they don't want to provide for the basic needs of the prisoners, in accordance to the general policy of the Taliban.

In addition to the already-full 18 blocks of the prison, the Taliban opened two new blocks that were previously assigned to female prisoners. Each block has 116 rooms and in each room they have crammed 40 to 50 prisoners like animals. In order to control the prison and maintain its "security," there are 150 Taliban fighters who constantly beat, flog, torture, humiliate, and sodomize the prisoners. There are more than 2,000 prisoners in the first block, the vast majority of which are small shop owners and other poor working class people. The Taliban's religious police arrest them for supposedly violating the religious rules, but these people have committed no crimes other than being ethnic Tajiks. A few months after being arrested, finally someone may look into their cases. Most of them are convicted of some cooked-up political crime and are sentenced to unknown prison terms. A lot of prisoners were arrested from streets during the first Taliban's attack on the northern regions and were transferred to the Pol-e-Charkhi Prison. After almost three years they still face an unknown fate, and many of them have become mentally and physically ill, and some are on the verge of insanity. Each prisoner receives only a dried-up, 180-gram loaf of bread and every six prisoners get 450g of boiled rice in every 24 hours. At least three people die every week as a result of such poor nutrition. The prison personnel transfer the bodies to a hospital and then pronounce them dead due to some illness.

The nutritional and Health Situation of the Prison, 
the Role of the Red Cross and Its Employees

Since the Taliban administration pays no attention to the plight of prisoners, the Red Cross regularly sends aid to the Pol-e-Charkhi Prison. This includes such items as rice, beans, oil, sugar, tea, meat, vegetables, fruits, soap, carpet, jackets, glasses, gasoline, etc. The result of all this aid is that the prison's director owns cars, apartments, house, and huge sums of money. The only portion of the Red Cross aid that reaches the prisoners is some rice. Every day six prisoners receive 450g of boiled rice. Each prisoner receives a bucket that is used as toilet. The Red Cross has set up a pharmacy with a few doctors, but all the medicine is stolen and divided between the Red Cross employees and the prison administration. They record some prisoners' names to falsify that they provide some sort of service. Most prisoners are suffering from various diseases such as digestion problems, cholera, etc. Prisoners are allowed only twice a day, from 8 to 10 in the morning and 4 to 6 in the afternoon, to use the restrooms built by the Red Cross. All the restrooms are destroyed because they have been looted by the Taliban. Those prisoners who pray do not have access to water for ablution. The Red Cross gives every prisoner a bucket to store water in it, but they use it as a toilet. They can empty the bucket in the restrooms only when they are allowed to go to the restrooms. The lack of access to bathrooms and laundries has made the situation of the rooms fatally dangerous.

Torture and Sodomy in the Prison

There are 150 armed Taliban guards at the prison who are located at different posts. They torture the prisoners just as a way to entertain themselves. They stop the prisoners for no reason and insult and threaten them, and conduct their religious inquisition. Those Taliban who are in charge of torturing attack the prisoners and flog them and beat them up to the extent that the prisoners loose conscientiousness. To justify their actions, sometimes they start asking religious questions during the torture. Sodomizing young men happens on a daily basis. They enter prisoners' rooms with different excuses, and take the young prisoners with them for supposedly cleaning the restrooms or sweeping the floor or running other errands. They take them to their rooms and tents and rape them. The young men never expose this despicable act to avoid the shame and stigma. It is worth mentioning that sodomy is prevalent in all of the Taliban's posts in cities.

The Prison Store and the Taliban Robbery

Since the situation of food in the prison is so horrible, those prisoners who can afford it, buy their food from the prison store so that they can survive for a while. During the first few days, if the prisoners can send a letter from the prison to their families, they can save their lives, otherwise they have to expect a gradual death. The friend who was telling me all this, said that he and his other friends in only two weeks sent 700 letters from the prison to the prisoners' families. The prison store is also run according to the Taliban's "religious" rules. The store is supervised by the prison director, and he puts prices on the goods as he wishes. For example a box of matches that costs 500 Afghanis is priced at 1,500 Afghanis; a cake that costs 8,000 Afghanis is priced at 35,000 Afghanis; and one kilogram of sugar that costs 18,000 Afghanis is priced at 40,000 Afghanis. With such extortions under complete legal impunity, the prison director can amass hundreds of millions of Afghanis in a few months.

The Pol-e-Charkhi prison, and also other prisons, are good venues for the ignorant Taliban to become rich. Whether this is allowed under religion or not is irrelevant and can be taken care of by a fatwa from their leaders. The Arab and Pakistani staff are playing a key role in conducting tortures and interrogations and running the prison. Some Pakistanis enter the prisoners' rooms during the night and start beating up the prisoners for no reason. This is only a game for the Pakistani Taliban.

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