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Torture and violence against prisoners in Afghanistan

Published Date: May 20, 2017


In its recent report, the US Committee against Torture (CAT) has accused Kandahar Police Chief General Abdul Razeq of torturing prisoners, executions without trial and having secret prisons. General Razeq, on the other hand, denies all these accusations.

Approximately one month ago (24 April 2017), a report, published by United National Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and UN human rights office, shows that prisoners in Afghanistan are still being tortured and are victim of violence and maltreatment.

The background of torture in Afghanistan, the country’s anti-torture laws, the current situation of torture in the Afghan prisons and the government initiatives to prevent torture are the issues that are analyzed here.


Torture in Afghanistan

Ill-treatment and torture has a long history in our country and almost all the governments and armed groups have tortured their oppositions in private or government prisons, detentions centers and even out in public, the incidents of which, according to the reports, have increased after 1357 (solar year).

During the communist regime in Afghanistan, between 1357 and 1358 (solar years), thousands of people are imprisoned and tortured by communist intelligence services under the name of Ikhwani, Ashrar and Afghan Milat, most of whom have lost their lives under torture. A list of 5000 of them was published by the Netherlands government in September 2013 and a list of 12000 of others will be released soon. Communists at that time used tortures such as electricity shocks, breaking bones, depriving of sleep, food and water, psychological tortures (verbal abuse and prostitution), nail dragging and closing the door on prisoners’ fingers, etc.

During the Mujahedin regime, especially during the civil war, the groups used to torture the members of their opposition groups. Each group had its prisons in particular places for torturing. Beating, hammering nails into peoples’ heads, dragging nails, mutilation was among the most heinous methods of torture. Later, the Taliban, which was largely a dictator regime, also tortured people and have used various methods including beating and other types of torture.

After 2001, and with the formation of the new government, which claimed to respect human rights and implement law in the society, these tortures continued. However, the 29th article of the Afghan constitution states that “persecution of human beings shall be forbidden. No one shall be allowed to or order torture, even for discovering the truth from another individual who is under investigation, arrest, detention or has been convicted to be punished.” [1]  In addition,  the Article 275th of Afghanistan’s penal code states, “if a public servant tortured or ordered torturing the accused individual for the purposes of getting confession, he/she shall be sentenced to long-term prison time.” [2] However, due to various reasons, in the past one and a  half decade, the government has failed to implement the law and the people who have committed the crime of torturing are not prosecuted and even they are not relieved of their duties.

Torturing prisoners after 2001

After the fall of the Taliban regime and the establishment of the new government in Afghanistan and the presence of international forces in this country, a horrible stream of torture by these forces commenced as well. Seeing the violation of the human dignity by the foreigners, the people forgot the previous atrocities and tortures by former governments and armed groups. 

Torture by government officials; in recent years, Afghanistan is highly criticized by human rights organizations for the systematic tortures carried out by its security officials. Since the past one and a half decade, the Taliban members make the majority of prisoners in Afghan prisons. From time to time, the Taliban have spoken about the torture in Afghan jails. For instance, in a statement in March 2015, the Taliban had said that the Taliban prisoners had been vigorously tortured in Afghan prisons. [3]

In 2011, UNAMA released a report confirming torture and violence in the Afghan prisons. [4]

In its report in 2014, UNAMA, once again, expressed its concerns about torture in Afghan prisons.  In February 2015, UNAMA released its third report on torture in Afghan jails. In this report, UNAMA had interviewed 790 prisoners in 2013 and 2014. The findings of the report showed that the level of torture had been dropped 14% compared to the past years but overall people were tortured and the immunity of the people who carried out the tortures from punishment was said to be the reasons behind the continuation of torture and violence in Afghan prisons. [5]

In its most recent report, released on 24 April 2017, UNAMA has said that ill-treatment and torture of prisoners continued in Afghanistan. In this report, which has interviewed 469 prisoners in 62 prisons, the prisoners have said that under beating and torturing they were forced to confess. Some of these prisoners have stated that they were not even aware of the contents of their confession letters and some were even unable to read them. The report writes that torturing the prisoners of war will not maintain security in Afghanistan. [6]  However, the  Afghan government have repeatedly rejected these reports and have denied the existence of torture in the Afghan prisons and detention centers.

Torture by foreign forces: In the presence of the foreign troops in Afghanistan, these forces built public and secret prisons. Most of the prisoners in these prisons were people who were arrested in the military operations particularly in the night raids. These prisoners were held either in Guantanamo, Bagram or other prisons. The followings are some examples of tortures carried out by foreigners in Afghanistan and abroad in Guantanamo prison:

  • Lack of the rule of law;
  • Punishments were contrary to human dignity;
  • Tying ropes around the prisoners’ necks and dragging them in the halls;
  • Unclear fate of the detainees and their unclear future;
  • Insulting their sanctities;
  • Non-allowance to read books and lack of amusement;
  • Insulting tortures such as taking off the prisoners’ clothes and photographing them while they were nude;
  • They would not adequately treat the ill prisoners so that he always be worried about his health;
  • Depriving them of sleep which would result in psychological disorders;
  • Giving incorrect news to prisoners about their family members which increased psychological pressure on them;
  • Delay in submitting the letters they received from their families. In most of the cases, they would erase some parts of the letters so that the prisoners be worried about their families.


The National Unity Government (NUG) and the torture in the prisons

After the formation of the NUG, during a press conference President Ghani said, “When a human being is tortured in an inhuman way, the response will also be inhuman. Today there is no justification for such cruel deeds.” Furthermore, in an interview with the Human Rights Watch, Ghani said, “The Afghan government will not tolerate torture.”  Hence, Ghani committed himself to investigate the torture cases. [7]  

Despite the vows and some actions to prevent the torture, the Afghan government’s deeds in this regard are feeble. One of the government’s initiatives in this regard was issuing a decree regarding “prevention of torture” which had 20 articles. The decree was signed by the Afghan President on 4 March 2017. Also, based on the article 11th of the anti-torture law, the commission against torture was established on 17 April 2017 which would operate under the Independent Human Rights Commission

The Afghan government’s measures against torture were limited to rhetoric and issuing decrees. However, the reports of international institutions indicates the existence of torture in Afghan prisons as it is in the recent report published by the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT), General Razeq was criticized for ill-treatment and torturing prisoners. In this report, CAT has said that General Razeq has private prisons in Kandahar where he tortures, detainees and in some cases kills them and, therefore, the report says that he must be tried in court. Suffocation, hitting on the genitals and testicles, pressuring the abdomen by powerful water machines and electric shocks are the methods of tortures that the report says are carried out in Kandahar. [8] However, as before, both General Razeq and the Afghan government have rejected this report. Unless those who commit torture are prosecuted and punished, this situation will not become better.

The end   


[1] The Afghan constitution, Second Chapter, Article 29, 1382:

[2] The Afghan Penal Law, Article 275, 1355:

[3] read online:

[4] Read more here:

[5] read BBC’s this report for further info:

[6] UN News center, Conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan tortured, ill-treated in government facilities – UN, 24 April 2017, see it online:

[7] read more here:

[8] Reuters, U.N. torture committee wants Afghan general prosecuted, 12 May 2017, see it online:


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