‘I Wake Up and Scream’: Secret Taliban Prisons Terrorize Hundreds


FAIZABAD, Afghanistan — The Taliban jail is a ruined home, a cave, a dirty basement in an deserted dwelling, or a village mosque. Beatings or worse are a certainty, and the sentence is indefinite. Meals, if there’s any, is stale bread and chilly beans. A mattress is the ground or a grimy carpet. The specter of dying — screamed, shouted, typically inflicted — is ever-present.

Malik Mohammadi, a relaxed 60-year-old farmer, watched the Taliban put to dying his 32-year-old son Nasrullah, a military officer, in a single such jail. Over a interval of 9 days final yr, Nasrullah, an epileptic, was refused drugs by his captors. He was denied meals. His father noticed blood coming from his mouth, and bruises from beatings. On the tenth day, he died.

“The Taliban beat him,” Mr. Mohammadi mentioned quietly. “I watched the killing of my son.”

Such repression is a part of the Taliban’s technique of management within the territories beneath their rule. Whereas the Afghan authorities and Taliban negotiators in Qatar fitfully speak about assembly for talks, at the same time as the thought of actual peace recedes, the fact is that the insurgents already maintain a lot of the nation. An approaching U.S. withdrawal, coupled with a weak Afghan safety power scarcely capable of defend itself, means the group is more likely to keep this authority and its brutal methods of invoking submission.

One of many Taliban’s most fearsome instruments for doing so is a free community of prisons, an improvised archipelago of mistreatment and struggling, wherein the insurgents inflict harsh abstract judgment on their fellow Afghans, arbitrarily stopping them on the freeway. Principally, they’re in search of troopers and authorities employees. The federal government too has been accused of mistreatment in its prisons, with the United Nations just lately discovering that almost a 3rd of the Afghan military’s prisoners have been tortured.

Within the Taliban’s case, the detained are locked up in hidden makeshift prisons, a universe of incarceration wherein the hapless prices are sometimes moved, day after day, from ruined home to remoted mosque, and again once more — with none sense of how lengthy their detention will final. The method is something however discriminating.

“It retains coming again to me in my sleep,” mentioned Sayed Hiatullah, a 42-year-old shopkeeper in Faizabad. Final yr, Mr. Hiatullah was falsely accused at a Taliban checkpoint of working for state safety. He was imprisoned for 25 days.

“I get up and scream,” he mentioned. “It was the darkest, most bitter interval in my life. I used to be in shock for six months,” Mr. Hiatullah mentioned.

“I relive my reminiscences 100%, each second, each minute,” mentioned Atiqullah Hassanzada, 31, an ex-soldier captured final yr on his technique to a navy hospital in Kabul, talking on the ground of his residence. “I used to be crushed on the backs of my thighs and on the shoulder,” he mentioned.

Faizabad, a city in Afghanistan’s far north and the capital of Badakhshan Province, is inhabited by quite a few ex-prisoners of the Taliban, because the insurgents management most of the roads from right here to the capital, Kabul. Making that journey means publicity to Taliban checkpoints, and seize.

In Faizabad, the Taliban’s method is to incarcerate and punish first and ask questions later. There isn’t a choose and no courtroom. Native villagers are compelled to offer meals. Whereas 1000’s of Afghans have been detained on this means, there aren’t any statistics. Afghan particular forces mentioned they just lately freed greater than 40 detainees from a Taliban jail in Baghlan Province, a not unusual incident in native information broadcasts. On Monday, 23 extra have been freed in Kunduz Province, after being “extensively tortured” by the Taliban, mentioned the Afghan Ministry of Protection.

The impact of those arbitrary imprisonments is one among terror. “I begged them, crying, to launch me,” mentioned Mr. Hiatullah. “They might beat me much more.”

“The Taliban stopped the automobile and arrested me,” mentioned Naqibullah Momand, touring to his residence in Kunduz Province final yr. “They put their hand on my coronary heart to examine my heartbeat,” mentioned the 26-year-old tv presenter.

For the Taliban, a fast beat would have indicated guilt; Mr. Momand compelled himself to stay calm, however he nonetheless ended up spending 29 days locked in a two-room home with 20 others, sleeping on a grimy carpet on the ground, a single gentle bulb illuminated all night time, earlier than his captors conceded he wasn’t a member of the Afghan navy.

Seize is simply the start of the torment. Native commanders, usually very younger, have unrestrained management over their prisoners.

“The low-level Taliban members’ conduct may be very dangerous,” mentioned Fazul-Ahmad Aamaj, an aged, semiofficial mediator in Faizabad, the best-known of about 15 in Badakhshan. Folks whose family have been captured usually flip to Mr. Aamaj for assist. He has secured the discharge of dozens of the group’s captives, by way of negotiations involving household, tribal elders and cash.

Rahmatullah Danishjo, a college pupil captured on the street to Kabul, on his means from Wardak Province in September 2019, was trussed up and brought to a village mosque. As with different prisoners the holy place hardly proved to be a sanctuary.

For native commanders, the mosque makes a perfect jail. “It’s the one central place within the village; in lots of the villages, the mosque is synonymous with the Taliban,” mentioned Ashley Jackson, co-director of the Centre for the Research of Armed Teams, who has studied Taliban justice extensively. “It’s the best way they implement conduct.”

The Taliban additionally function a parallel community of civil courts wherein spiritual students choose land disputes and household quarrels. These courts, with their swift judgments, have gained a repute of kinds for effectivity and are welcomed by many Afghans, notably in comparison with the federal government’s corrupted justice system. Taliban courts additionally choose murders and perceived ethical and spiritual infractions. Right here the emphasis is on “punishment”; the system “depends on beatings and different types of torture,” Human Rights Watch mentioned in a report final yr.

Crimes perceived as political, like working for the Afghan authorities, or preventing for it, inhabit a distinct universe. There aren’t any courts for such crimes. Native Taliban commanders have absolute authority “to arrest anybody they deem suspicious,” Human Rights Watch mentioned.

Mohammed Aman, 31, a authorities engineer, mentioned he was pulled over on the freeway from Ghazni to Kabul one afternoon final November, handcuffed and brought to a mosque. “There have been 10 or 11 others, handcuffed to a sequence, contained in the mosque,” he mentioned. “We have been praying, early within the morning. They got here, and so they beat us,” mentioned Mr. Danishjo, who was held in one other mosque.

“They beat us with sticks for perhaps, 5 minutes. They hit us within the again,” he mentioned. “They have been beating us on the palms.”

“One of many Taliban flogged us within the courtyard of the mosque,” mentioned Abdel Qadir Sharifi, 25, who was captured when his navy base was overrun. “I believed they have been going to kill me.”

Dying is the ever-present menace, typically inflicted however extra usually used as a fearsome bargaining chip to realize what the Taliban need: cash, a prisoner alternate, or a painfully extracted pledge to resign authorities service. The deliberate, usually sluggish, placing to dying of captives additionally happens.

Summoned together with village elders to barter his son’s launch in alternate for Taliban prisoners, Mr. Mohammadi was capable of see his son thrice throughout Nasrullah’s temporary captivity.

“They tried to take a seat him up. However he saved falling down,” Mr. Mohammadi recalled. The Taliban shouted at him: “‘Do you see what is going on to your son?’’’

The following day the Taliban moved Nasrullah to a ruined home. By the ninth day, he had misplaced consciousness. He was filthy, lined in urine and excrement.

His captors allowed Mr. Mohammadi to scrub him in chilly water. But it surely was too late. “He was dying,” his father mentioned. “The final time I noticed him, it was within the yard of the destroyed home,” he mentioned.

After the dying of his son, the Taliban tormented him. “Why don’t you cry?” they requested. “I informed them, I don’t need to cry in entrance of the timber and the stones,” mentioned Mr. Mohammadi.

“I cried alone,” he mentioned.

His different son, Rohullah Hamid, 35, a lawyer in Kabul, who took half within the failed effort to get his brother launched, mentioned: “On daily basis, dozens of Afghans die due to the Taliban. The Taliban are the enemy of humanity.”

Najim Rahim contributed reporting from Faizabad, Taimoor Shah Taimoor Shah from Kandahar and Farooq Jan Mangal from Khost.