Dutch court sentences 1980s Afghan prison chief for 12 years over war crimes

Dutch court sentences 1980s Afghan prison chief for 12 years over war crimes
Abdul Razzaq Rafief, who arrived to The Netherlands as a refugee in 2001, was "involved in violence" against inmates and abused them.
3 min read
The Pul-e-Charkhi jail, located on the outskirts of Kabul, is a notorious prison with subpar conditions and over-crowdedness [Getty]

A Dutch court on Thursday sentenced an elderly Afghan man to 12 years in prison for war crimes committed while in charge of a notorious Kabul jail in the 1980s.

The sentencing in The Hague is one of the latest in a series of efforts by Europeans to bring people to account for crimes in conflict-torn nations, including Syria and Afghanistan- as eyes turn to Ukraine.

Abdul Razzaq Rafief "treated the prisoners cruelly and dishonourably and arbitrarily deprived them of their liberty," judge Els Kole told The Hague regional court, adding "these are war crimes".

Rafief, 76, played a leading role in the abuse of prisoners at the Pul-e-Charkhi jail between 1983-88 "where he had effective command and control", the judge said.

She said he was head of the prison during a period when Afghanistan's communist regime was fighting a Soviet-backed war against mujahideen resistance fighters.

Thousands of prisoners were tortured and some executed, many of those who were seen as enemies of the regime, Kole said.

Rafief "was involved in the violence. He gave orders and knew what was happening in the prison and did nothing to stop his subordinates" from abusing inmates, the judge said.

This included a prisoner who was beaten up on Rafief's orders "because he complained about the conditions in the prison."

Prisoners were held in three blocks at the jail, with the worst being reserved for political detainees and those with death sentences, the judge said.

The blocks were overcrowded and the prisoners covered with fleas and lice. Medical help was almost non-existent, the judge said.

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'Deep, lasting scars'

Prosecutors said some were executed without trial and those who were brought before a judge only received a hearing "for show".

"Prisoners were in a cruel world and were being detained in inhuman conditions without any hope for the future," judge Kole added.

"The suspect's actions left deep and lasting scars," on the victims, she said.

Dutch authorities started investigating in 2012 after blogs said the former commander of Pul-e-Charkhi was living in the Netherlands, where he was arrested in 2019.

He came to the Netherlands as a refugee in 2001.

Rafief, who previously attended in a wheelchair and was not present for the verdict, had told the court his trial was a case of mistaken identity.

But judges threw out the defence, saying that an Afghan driver's licence, confiscated during his arrest showed that he was indeed the correct person.

He was also positively identified by numerous of the 19 witnesses in the trial.

"Even though it was a long time ago, there is no reason to doubt the reliability of these witnesses' testimony," Kole said.

Ahmed Faquri, 66, one of the victims who was present at the hearing said he was "relieved" when the sentence was read.

"One of the people who tortured me has been judged and sentenced," he told AFP outside the courtroom.

"It doesn't matter for how long. This is about recognition," Faquri said.

Rafief's lawyer said he would appeal the sentence.

"We disagree on almost every point the judge mentioned in the courtroom," Marijn Zuketto said.