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IV. Attacks on Political Actors and Political Activities
Attacks on Political Parties, their Members, and Leaders
Since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of political intimidation and violence by army, police, and intelligence forces in several areas in the southeast. In the first half of 2003, Human Rights Watch has documented many new cases, both in Kabul and neighboring provinces, in which security forces have threatened political leaders and other politically active persons, especially those who have been involved in organizing opposition political parties. This section outlines cases of politically motivated attacks and intimidation.
The Legacy of the Loya Jirga
The June 2002 loya jirga—a traditional Afghan “grand council” convened under the 2001 Bonn Agreement—was called to choose a second interim government to rule Afghanistan until elections in 2004. The selection process for the loya jirga, which took place in May and June of 2002, was conducted in two stages. During the first stage, candidates were elected in their home districts by traditional local shuras, or councils; during the second stage, these candidates attended a regional election where they chose a smaller number of delegates from among themselves to attend the loya jirga in Kabul.184 Human Rights Watch has previously documented abuses by political actors in Afghanistan during the selection process to the loya jirga.185
During the loya jirga itself, several powerful military and party leaders threatened less powerful delegates, and agents of the Amniat-e Melli spied on and delivered threats to delegates.186 Those involved in the threats and surveillance included forces under Defense Minister Fahim and Minister of Education Qanooni, agents of Burhanuddin Rabbani and Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, and officials of the Hezb-e Wahdat and Harakat-i Islami parties of Afghanistan. Agents of Ismail Khan, the governor of Herat, also threatened participants, as did Abdul Haji Qadir, a Nangarhar leader who later served as the vice-president of Afghanistan and who was assassinated on July 6, 2002.187
Through the rest of 2002 and in 2003, Human Rights Watch documented numerous additional cases of threats, arrests, and killings that took place during the loya jirga in June 2002.188
The intimidation experienced during the loya jirga is fresh in the minds of many former delegates, both within and outside of Kabul. Many people trace their current fear of speaking openly about political matters back to what happened during the loya jirga.
One delegate described a conflict during the loya jirga with a military commander with Harakat-e Islami that in March 2003 still made him fear for his safety (for security reasons, the name of the commander is omitted here):
The delegate went on to describe how two other politically active persons had been killed in their houses in his neighborhood in Kabul during the loya jirga—killings which Human Rights Watch confirmed but which have not been investigated or solved.
The delegate, along with other residents of his neighborhood, said these events had left an indelible impression on many residents of his neighborhood: that those who opposed powerful commanders would be dealt with harshly.190 The delegate said many people continue to fear commanders because of what happened during the loya jirga.
The Case of Mohammed S.
Other politically active persons confirmed in 2003 that their troubles with political intimidation began during the 2002 loya jirga. For example, one organizer, Mohammed S., a politically active leader in Kabul who tried to organize a new political group before the loya jirga, told Human Rights Watch that agents of the Amniat-e Melli arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned him and threatened him with torture for his political activities.191 He said the agents questioned him about his activities and forced him to name his follow organizers. Mohammed S. was detained before the loya jirga began and was held throughout the meeting, for almost three months. He was released on June 23, 2002, he told us, but continued to face threats into 2003.
Mohammed S. described his arrest on April 1, 2002:
That same day, Mohammed S. said, he was taken to the Amniat-e Melli Directory Number One, a compound near Bibi Mahru mountain in Kabul. He was put into a large room with approximately two hundred other detainees.
Mohammed S. said that he saw another, smaller room in the same building in which another set of people were being imprisoned, approximately fifty by his estimate. After two days, the prisoners in both rooms were taken to another room in the basement of the building. It was in these sets of smaller rooms that interrogations took place:
The prisoners were tortured if they did not answer questions or disobeyed the orders of the Amniat officials, he said:
Because he answered questions and wrote down the names of his fellow organizers, Mohammed S. said he was not tortured. Once, he was able to talk to the warden of the facility and complained about the interrogations. The warden said he could not act: “He just told me, ‘This is not within my jurisdiction. People have come from the interrogation unit of Amniat, and they are more powerful than I. I can’t do anything.’”
After approximately two months, Mohammed S. was transferred to the Sadarad facility. This building was used in the 1970s as the Prime Minister’s house and was later an interrogation center used by KHAD (Khademat-e Ettela'at-e Dawlati, or State Intelligence Service), the Afghan Soviet-trained intelligence service in the 1980s, which engaged in systematic torture of detainees during the Soviet occupation. During this time, his family registered him with the International Committee for the Red Cross, believing that he was being held as a political prisoner or alleged “prisoner of war” by Afghan officials.
There were a lot of interrogations there [at Sadarad]. They accused me of espionage. “You are ISI!” [Pakistani Intelligence] they would say. That sort of thing. “Not I!” I would say. “I hate Pakistan!” They slapped me on the face. “You are an infidel!” they would say. . . .
The worst torture was that my family didn’t know where I was, that I was arrested and they didn’t know, and that they thought I was killed.
After Mohammed S. was released, he continued to fear that Amniat-e Melli agents would kill him. In late 2002, he told us, his brother, who was also involved in political organizing, was shot and killed in his car in Kabul. Mohammad S. has now curtailed most of his political organizing activities, and meets other members of his party in secret.
Threats and Arrests after the Loya Jirga
Crackdowns on political freedoms continued in Kabul and other provinces after the loya jirga. Numerous political party leaders told Human Rights Watch about threats they received during late 2002 and 2003. Many threats came after political parties distributed publications critical of certain governmental officials.
The Case of H. Rahman
In late 2002, a small political party in Kabul, in association with some members in other provinces, began publishing a bulletin with commentary and articles about political issues in Afghanistan.192 (The group asked that its name not be printed.) In November 2002, the party published a series of articles criticizing the makeup of the Afghan cabinet, specifically criticizing the fact there were several members of the government who were involved in fighting around Kabul in the early 1990s.193
The party leader, “H. Rahman,”194 began to receive threats in late November 2002, including threats from the current education minister and Shura-e Nazar leader, Younis Qanooni:
Believing he would be arrested or even killed, Rahman said, he tried to get help from the Interior Ministry and the police, to no avail:
Rahman called a European diplomat in Kabul whom he knew, who was able to contact officials in ISAF. Within the hour, he told us, an ISAF patrol was at his office. There were apparently some members of Amniat-e Melli or other government officials there by the time ISAF arrived:
A few weeks later, in December 2002, several other Amniat officials visited the office of the political party, trying to convince him to stop printing his publication and to join with Shura-e Nazar, Rahman told us.
A few days later, Rahman said, more Amniat-e Melli officials visited him:
Then the threats got even worse, he explained. In the middle of January 2003, after the party’s paper published a report about harassment its members had faced from police, a senior official from Amniat-e Melli came to Rahman’s office and threatened him:
He intimidated me terribly and told me that he would arrest me and put me in prison if articles like that were printed in the paper. He told me that I did not have the right to publish that kind of article, and that my papers were against the jihad and the national interest. He said that if I continued my activities, he would do something to me that no one had ever dreamed of, and besides that, he said, no one would ever be able to find me.
Over the next few days, Rahman said, he received six threats over the telephone from persons he did not recognize, saying that he would soon be arrested or killed.
In late January 2003, Rahman published an article critical of Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf. Afterwards, Rahman said, Sayyaf himself called him on his telephone and harassed him, asking him to come to his house to explain himself. Rahman refused to go because he feared for his safety, he told us.
A few months later, in late May 2003, Rahman was driving into Kabul city after visiting a friend in neighboring Logar when he was followed by soldiers in a car who threatened him with Kalashnikovs. Rahman tried to flee, he said, and after a car chase, he made it to a bazaar, where the soldiers crashed into his car and surrounded him, guns drawn. The soldiers took Rahman out of his car, threw him to the ground, and beat him severely with kicks and rifle butts:
The Chilling Effect of Political Intimidation
Other political party leaders were not as bold as Rahman. Another political organizer in Kabul, who refused to speak openly about his experiences because of fear of reprisals, said he was afraid of Sayyaf specifically and said that many Amniat-e Melli officials were acting on Sayyaf’s behalf:
Another political party leader, a former resident of Paghman, told Human Rights Watch about his fears of security forces in Kabul and in particular forces connected to Sayyaf. He said that he organized his party’s meetings in secret. He described the consequences of organizing or speaking publicly:
We have to keep our activities secret. . . . We are ready to sacrifice, but we cannot throw away our lives. . . . Many times our party’s members in different parts of Afghanistan have expressed their anxiety about security. My advice to them is to be cautious and to not work openly.
Another man, a former refugee who had previously been active in community organization in Pakistan, described why he decided not to be involved in political activities after returning to Afghanistan:
The man said he would stay in Kabul and not return to his home village in Ghazni, because, he said, he would face problems there because of his former political activity.198
The party leader from Paghman, quote earlier, said he was afraid to travel to Paghman, where Sayyaf’s supporters are in control:
The party leader also offered his opinion of the political climate in Kabul:
The same leader admitted to Human Rights Watch that some political leaders had been critical of the government and security forces and were operating openly but said there was a specific reason for their openness:
The question might arise in your mind that there are political parties who do act publicly. . . . Well that’s true. But they are protected and supported by something or someone; for instance, international actors or agencies, or foreign governments. Because we do not have such sources of protection, we cannot act publicly.201
Human Rights Watch documented politically motivated threats and arrests outside of Kabul as well. Political leaders told Human Rights Watch that in certain other provinces the situation was worse than in Kabul.
In Jalalabad, Human Rights Watch received reports that the eastern region commander, Hazrat Ali, ordered a politically motivated arrest of a suspected opponent. In early April 2003, Hazrat Ali’s troops—including Sami—arrested “Abdullah Qasim,” a politically active former member of parliament from Jalalabad in the government of King Zahir Shah.202 He was held for several days and released. Family members refused to talk with Human Rights Watch about what happened, but a neighbor who spoke with them described what happened:
Other neighbors confirmed this account and said that one of Abdullah Qasim’s relatives was arrested with him.204 “He was arrested because of a land dispute, and because he is influential,” one said.205
Abdullah Qasim was released soon after, possibly because he allowed Hazrat Ali to have his land, they said. Neighbors told Human Rights Watch that he had been beaten while in custody.207 After his release, Abdullah Qasim fled across the Afghan border to Peshawar, Pakistan.208
Human Rights Watch also received credible information that police commanders in Ghani Khel, a town to the southeast of Jalalabad, threatened two politically active persons. According to a local advocate, police commanders told one civil society organizer that he would be killed for his activities.209 Another political organizer, who helped to start a primary school for girls and speaks in favor of women’s rights, received death threats. “He was told that if he continues his activities, ‘he should expect death,’” the advocate told us.210
In the western province of Herat, Ismail Khan continues to impose complete control over the political environment, using his security forces to silence opposition. (The human rights situation in Herat was the subject of two Human Rights Watch reports in October and November 2002.)211 In March 2002, Ismail Khan ordered the arrest of four university professors in Herat for organizing a political group.212 UNAMA intervened and the professors were released.213 A few days before, the leader of a political party trying to organize in Herat was also ordered arrested but fled to Kabul.214
Attacks on Others Who Criticize the Government
Ordinary people without formal political affiliations have also been threatened for speaking openly or criticizing governmental leaders, especially outside of Kabul.
For example, on January 17, 2003, in Gardez, a retired school teacher stood up in a tribal meeting to complain that government workers and, in particular, teachers had not been paid in seven months and that teachers generally were paid too little.215 The teacher also criticized the governor, Raz Mohammad Dalili, implying that he was living comfortably while other governmental employees were in need.216 The local radio station in Gardez reported on the meeting and the teacher’s complaints.217 According to two separate accounts from journalists, Governor Dalili reacted angrily to the report; he later intimidated the teacher and ordered the radio station to be “investigated.”218 According to one journalist:
I was in a meeting where Governor Dalili was . . . talking about this with some of the officials from his office and the army and police. “How can he can say such things about me?” he said. “He is a liar. We should find out who he is. Find him and bring him to me.”219
The teacher temporarily went into hiding.220 Police and army officials later visited the radio station director and interrogated him about his qualifications.221 (This case is also discussed in the section below on attacks on journalists.)
Human Rights Watch also documented a case in Kabul, in late May 2003, in which Kabul police arrested and beat several students after they organized a small protest in the medical school at Kabul University, complaining about nepotism in the university’s grading system. A witness to the arrests said that the police beat the students while arresting them, punching and kicking them.222 Later, after the students were brought to the Kabul main police station, the chief of Kabul police himself, Basir Salangi (a Jamiat-e Islami commander and member of Shura-e Nazar) beat two of them.223 The beatings occurred in Salangi’s office, after Salangi interrogated one of the students, whom he thought was a leader of the protests:
Other students confirmed this account. Some were released that same day, but the two who were beaten by Salangi were held for another three days.225
Students from Jalalabad also complained about not being able to speak or express their political views openly. One of them described the lack of political freedom at Jalalabad University:
The student disparaged authorities’ claims that they had established security in Jalalabad, saying the claims about security were meaningless given the lack of political freedoms: “They claim that they have established security here. Well, there was ‘security’ under the Taliban and there is ‘security’ when you are in prison too.”227
Attacks on Women’s Rights Advocates
While some politically active people have been threatened for criticizing military commanders or other governmental leaders, some women, in areas such as Jalalabad and Laghman, have been targeted simply for speaking publicly or speaking about and promoting women’s rights. These attacks punish not only the women involved, but also have a chilling effect on all women who wish to advocate on behalf of other women or participate in public affairs, such as the rebuilding of the country’s government and its civil society. As one women’s rights activist, who had been threatened many times in 2003, explained: “I do not care so much for my personal safety, but I am afraid that if I am killed, then the women of [in the area where I work] will not dare to come out of their houses.”228
In Jalalabad, Education Department head Abdul Ghani, provincial administrator Haji Omar, and several local soldiers have intimidated women from speaking publicly. According to a Jalalabad government official, Abdul Ghani ordered female teachers “not to attend public occasions or meetings without his permission.”229
A woman told Human Rights Watch that Haji Omar excluded her from a government meeting in April 2003 because she was a woman.230 According to others at the meeting who asked about her absence, Haji Omar told them that “[w]omen should not have the right to sit with men,” and he threatened to boycott any meetings she attended in the future.231 The woman subsequently decided not to read a speech she had prepared for another government meeting because, she said, she was afraid.232
A woman whom Abdul Ghani intimidated for speaking publicly about women’s rights told Human Rights Watch:
In early April 2003, another woman activist declined to read a poem during a picnic for Gul-e-Narange (Orange Blossom) in Jalalabad.234 When a colleague, who said she was good at reading poems, asked her why, she replied, “Because we do not feel free to talk in public now. We do not dare to appear in public and declaim poems.”235 Her colleague told Human Rights Watch:
Not only women have been threatened for speaking about women’s rights. A local advocate in Jalalabad reported that:
In March 2003 in Laghman province, east of Kabul, women were threatened and assaulted for advocating for and speaking publicly about women’s rights. On March 9, 2003, a woman teacher was assaulted in her home for speaking at a ceremony commemorating International Women’s Day on March 8. According to a friend familiar with the events, the teacher had recited a poem she had written about Afghanistan and women’s rights, which contained sections asserting that “men and women have the same rights” and that women should have the same human rights as men.238
The night after the Women’s Day ceremony, armed men broke into the teacher’s home, her friend told us. The teacher was sleeping with her daughter in one room, and her two nephews were in another room, she said. The teacher’s friend, who visited and spoke with her after the assault, described what happened:
Other men entered with the first gunman and tied up the woman, searched the house for valuable items, and stole the woman’s jewelry, her friend said.
The friend—herself an advocate on women’s rights—said she and her family had also gotten into trouble because of her activities. Army soldiers under the local commander, Ismatullah, including a sub-commander who she named, attacked her sister’s house on the same night, March 9, she said.
The woman’s sister apparently recognized the soldiers from their voices; she said she knew it was the sub-commander and his men because they had earlier come to her house. She tried to hide.
U.N. officials confirmed these cases.239
The woman herself said she had received anonymous written threats on at least three occasions:
The third set of letters, left at her home in April 2003, warned her not to go out and not to encourage women to go out, she told us.
In late March, someone poisoned the woman advocate’s dog, which her family had bought for security, she said. An apparently sympathetic official under the local governor, Commander Zamon, spoke with the woman and her family, saying, “They have poisoned your dog. You should be careful for yourself.”
A few days later, Ismatullah’s sub-commander himself visited the woman’s house, while she was out, she told us.
In April 2003, at a public meeting, the head of the Laghman Law Department, Obidullah, warned the woman that he would not tolerate her in Laghman any longer unless, she reported, “I cease my activities and stop raising women’s voices and stop my activities encouraging women to come out of their homes.”
The woman remained defiant:
184 For more information on the process of the loya jirga, see Human Rights Watch, “Q & A on Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga Process,” April 17, 2002, available at http://hrw.org/press/2002/04/qna-loyagirga.htm.
185 See Human Rights Watch, “Afghanistan: Return of the Warlords.”
186 Human Rights Watch monitored the loya jirga in Kabul during June 2002. See Human Rights Watch, “Loya Jirga Off to a Shaky Start,” press release, June 13, 2002; Human Rights Watch, “Afghanistan: Analysis of New Cabinet,” press release, June 20, 2002; see also, Saman Zia-Zarifi, “The Warlords Are Plotting a Comeback,” Commentary, International Herald Tribune, June 10, 2002.
187 Human Rights Watch interview with loya jirga commission observer, Kabul, June 16, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with Kabul loya jirga delegate, Kabul, June 16, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with Herat loya jirga delegate, Kabul, June 18, 2002.
188 Human Rights Watch interview with T.M.N., loya jirga delegate, Kabul, October 17, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with A.F.E., Afghan human rights worker, Kabul, March 8, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with G.S.P., former loya jirga candidate, Kabul, March 18, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with D.D.F., resident of Paghman, Kabul, March 18, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with G.J.I., resident of Jalalabad, Kabul, March 29, 2003. Human Rights Watch has reviewed or obtained copies of several petitions delivered to U.N. or Afghan government offices by local residents in several provinces complaining about threats and killings by local military leaders during the loya jirga, including in the provinces of Badahkshan, Kabul, Helmand, Nimroz, and Balkh.
189 Human Rights Watch interview with V.A.H., Kabul, March 22, 2003.
190 Ibid.; Human Rights Watch interview with F.D.N., Kabul, March 22, 2003.
191 The following account, including all quotations, is from a Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed S. in Kabul on March 30, 2003.
192 Human Rights Watch interview with H.O.R., Kabul, February 19, 2003.
194 The name of the interviewee has been changed. The following account, including all quotations, is from Human Rights Watch interviews with in H. Rahman Kabul on February 19, March 15, and May 29, 2003.
195 Human Rights Watch interview with G.S.P., former loya jirga candidate, Kabul, March 18, 2003.
196 Human Rights Watch interview with D.D.F., Kabul, March 18, 2003.
197 Human Rights Watch interview with H.W.D., resident of West Kabul, Kabul, March 18, 2003.
199 Human Rights Watch interview with D.D.F, Kabul, March 18, 2003.
202 Name has been changed to protect the victim’s security.
203 Human Rights Watch interview with D.G.H., local NGO official from Jalalabad, Kabul, April 16, 2003.
204 Human Rights Watch interview with K.Y.S., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with I.Y.K., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003.
205 Human Rights Watch interview with I.Y.K., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003.
206 Human Rights Watch interview with D.G.H., local NGO official from Jalalabad, Kabul, April 16, 2003.
207 Human Rights Watch interview with W.G.I., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with K.Y.S., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with I.Y.K., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003.
209 Human Rights Watch interview with Z.R.D., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003.
211 See Human Rights Watch, “All Our Hopes are Crushed”; and Human Rights Watch, “‘We Want to Live as Humans’: Repression of Women and Girls in Western Afghanistan,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 14, no 11(c), December 2002, available at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/afghnwmn1202/.
212 Human Rights Watch interview with C.D.R., leader of a political party, Kabul, March 17, 2003.
215 Human Rights Watch interview with R.G.D., journalist, Gardez, March 9, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with A.R.Z., journalist, March 11, 2003.
220 Human Rights Watch interview with R.G.D., journalist, Gardez, March 9, 2003.
222 Human Rights Watch interview with S.E.W.K, student, Kabul, May 29, 2003.
225 Human Rights Watch interview with H.J.R.Q., student, May 29, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with S.E.W.K, student, Kabul, May 29, 2003.
226 Human Rights Watch interview with H.M.L., Jalalabad, May 5, 2003.
228 Human Rights Watch interview with W.N., Kabul, May 7, 2003.
229 Human Rights Watch interview with government official, Jalalabad, May 5, 2003.
230 Human Rights Watch interview with women’s rights activist, Jalalabad, May 7, 2003.
233 Human Rights Watch interview with P.A., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003.
234 Human Rights Watch interview with A.O.W., Afghan journalist, Kabul, April 20, 2003.
237 Human Rights Watch interview with Z.R.D., local advocate, Jalalabad, May 6, 2003.
238 The following account, including all quotations, is from a Human Rights Watch interview in Kabul on March 30, 2003, with a women with first-hand information about these incidents.
239 Human Rights Watch interview with U.N. officials, Jalalabad, May 7, 2003.