Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Executions Break Afghan Moratorium
Ending a 3-year moratorium on the death penalty, Afghanistan executed 15
prisoners by gunfire, including a man convicted of killing 3 foreign
journalists during the U.S.-led invasion, the prisons chief announced
The United Nations protested the executions, which could complicate the
missions of some NATO nations here.
The mass execution took place Sunday evening according to Afghan law,
which calls for condemned prisoners to be shot to death, said Abdul Salam
Ismat, who oversees Afghanistan's prisons.
On Tuesday, Humayun Hamidzada, a presidential spokesman, said Afghanistan
will continue with executions of inmates on death row, saying they will be
a lesson ''for those who are committing such crimes, as murder,
kidnapping, adultery and rapes.''
The crimes committed by those executed Sunday included murder, kidnapping
and armed robbery, but officials said no Taliban or al-Qaida fighters were
among the prisoners.
Until it was ousted in late 2001, Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban regime
carried out executions in public, many of them at the Kabul stadium. The
new government pledged to the international community it would halt
executions, and had carried out only one previously, in 2004.
The 15 deaths could complicate relationships between the government and
some NATO countries with military forces here. Foreign troops often hand
over captured militants to the Afghan government, raising the question of
whether countries that do not use the death penalty might stop
The Netherlands was one of the first to criticize the Afghan announcement,
calling the executions ''extremely unwelcome.'' But it also said Dutch
troops would continue to transfer militants to the Afghan government,
saying it had an agreement protecting those prisoners from execution.
Anger over the executions also could prove a snag for NATO's efforts to
get its member nations to send more troops to Afghanistan. NATO has some
40,000 soldiers here but commanders complain they need more helicopters,
mobile troops and instructors to train the Afghan army.
''The fact that we have not fully been able to live up to the promises
that nations have made is a point of concern for me,'' NATO
Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Monday in Denmark before the
executions were announced.
Among those executed was Reza Khan, who was convicted of adultery and the
murder of one Afghan and 3 foreign journalists in 2001. The 4 were pulled
from their cars, robbed and shot near the eastern city of Jalalabad while
driving toward Kabul six days after the Taliban abandoned the capital
under heavy U.S. bombing.
The four were Australian TV cameraman Harry Burton, Afghan photographer
Azizullah Haidari of the Reuters news agency, Maria Grazia Cutuli of
Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera and Julio Fuentes of the Spanish
daily El Mundo.
Also executed was Farhad, who is also known as Pahlavan and like many
Afghan used only a single name. He was involved in the 2005 kidnapping of
Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni; she was freed after 3 weeks.
Tom Koenigs, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said the
U.N. had expressed its concern over the use of the death penalty many
times in the past.
''The United Nations in Afghanistan has been a staunch supporter of the
moratorium on executions observed in Afghanistan in recent years,''
Koenigs said. ''I expect Afghanistan to continue working towards attaining
the highest human rights standards and ensuring the due process of law and
the rights of all citizens are respected.''
The government's official announcement of the executions came on state
television Monday evening, saying said Karzai ordered the executions
following a decision by a special commission he set up to review rulings
by the Supreme Court.
''After all the discussions and after looking back over the cases ... in
order to prevent future crimes, such as murders, armed robberies,
kidnappings, and to maintain the stability of the country, (Karzai)
approved the prisoners' death sentences,'' a statement read over the news
Hamidzada, Karzai's spokesman, had told The Associated Press last week
that Karzai was taking ''extreme care in execution cases.''
''He has been holding on to these cases because he wants to make sure that
the justice is served and the due process is complete. He personally does
not like executions, but Afghan law asks for it, and he will obey the
laws,'' Hamidzada said.
The Dutch Foreign Ministry expressed distress at the executions.
''For the Netherlands, the abolition of the death penalty is one of our
priorities in terms of international human rights policy,'' spokesman Bart
Rijs said. ''We had understood there was a moratorium on the death penalty
Rijs said Dutch troops would continue to hand over prisoners because the
Netherlands had signed a memorandum of understanding with Karzai's
government guaranteeing those inmates would not be executed. Rijs said
there were 10 such prisoners and all were believed in good health.
Amnesty International said 6 countries were responsible for 91 % of all
known executions worldwide last year: China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan
and the United States. 18 other countries also carried out executions, the
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