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Death Penalty Information

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Afghanistan: botched executions
Nov. 6

The execution was bloodily botched. And in the confusion Afghans top
criminal escaped

Once the shooting began, it took more than f5 minutes to kill the last of
the 15 condemned men.
Stumbling blindly into one another in the darkness, hooded, shackled and
handcuffed, some had somehow survived the automatic fire from a ten-man
firing squad at almost point-blank range.
However, when the final coup de grace had been applied and the night was
silent again, it was clear that one man was missing. Timur Shah, perhaps
Afghanistan's most infamous criminal, sentenced to die for kidnap, rape
and murder, had escaped in the mle that was the country's 1st official
execution for 3 years.
"It was a grotesque mockery of justice," Sam Zia-Zarifi, Human Rights
Watch research director for Asia, said. "It was cruel and inhuman. The
legal systems in even the wealthiest nations are incapable of providing
justice when it comes to capital punishment. Afghanistan certainly can't."
The slaughter occurred at 9.30pm on October 7 on the eastern outskirts of
Kabul. Only now can the full story be told. The condemned prisoners were
killed in a chaotic, group turkey shoot. And Timur Shah had escaped with
the complicity of corrupt guards.
A 16th man remained alive, hidden among mutinous prisoners in the
notorious Policharki jail in the capital.
The bodies of the slain were so badly mutilated that in some cases
identification was impossible.
The Afghan Attorney-General is investigating claims that some paid for
their execution places to be taken by low-level prisoners.
A senior prosecutor charged with observing the execution, Sarbeland (he
goes by a single name), saw the whole event at first hand. He is the first
witness to describe it publicly in detail. Interviewed by The Timesin the
Attorney-Generals office in Kabul, he said that from the moment he arrived
at Policharki that afternoon, procedures were a shambles.
"I confirmed the condemned prisoners matched the photographs in their
files," he said. "But one was already missing. He had taken refuge among
another group of prisoners in a different wing who put up resistance when
we tried to get him back."
This prisoner, Khayoum, a convicted murderer, still remains at large
within the jail. Authorities, who clearly have lost control of some areas
of the prison, are still puzzling over how best to seize him without
triggering a bloodbath.
The thousands of Soviet-era executions within Policharki had always
occurred in a specialised wing of the jail. The Afghan authorities,
perhaps with the current level of the prison unrest in mind, instead drove
the condemned men in 2 vehicles to Pulegun. Here they ran into their next
The site was near an Afghan national army camp, and the soldiers wanted
nothing to do with the execution and ordered them away.
After hours of failed negotiations, the condemned men were driven to Dog
Fort, a desert site at the foot of a mountain, where dogs were taught to
sniff out mines.
The prisoners were unloaded in darkness and made to stand near a 4ft
(1.2m) earthen wall. After their sentences were confirmed, their hands
were released, one by one, to sign their wills, before being tied again.
(Many were illiterate and signed by thumb-printing the document.)
It was obvious at this point to Mr Sarbeland that Timur Shah was receiving
different treatment. He had only a narrow blindfold while the other
prisoners were hooded. His hands were tied in front of him, the others'
behind them.
A row then broke out when the condemned men asked to be uncuffed so that
they could pray one last time.
As this went on, Mr Sarbeland said, Timur Shah stepped a few feet away,
ostensibly to urinate. Instead he flung himself over the low wall. Other
prisoners started to run. The shooting began.
"It took between 5 and 10 minutes for them to kill everybody," Mr
Sarbeland said. "Then we went to look for Timur Shah. We searched over a
mile radius, but found nothing."
The bodies were collected. With multiple close-range gunshot wounds, many
had their faces blown off and were unidentifiable. Foreign diplomats
suggested later that some of the bodies had also been bayoneted, though Mr
Sarbeland denied this.
Among the dead, whose crimes ranged from murder to rape and robbery, was
Reza Khan, one of those responsible for the killing of 4 journalists on
the road between Jalalabad and Kabul in November 2001.
3 prison guards have been arrested for complicity in Timur Shah's escape.
Leading the investigation, Mr Sarbeland discovered that one set of
leg-shackle keys was missing perhaps given to Shah before he leapt over
the wall.
The Afghan public has been little disturbed by the controversy. Tired of
criminality, many people say that there should be more executions.
Bloody legacy
The only other official execution since the Taleban was ousted was in
2004 when Abdullah Shah, a military commander, was shot after being jailed
on 20 counts of murder
Before the removal of the Taleban in 2001, executions were considerably
more frequent. The group's strict interpretation of the Koran meant that
the methods of the often public killings were brutal. 3 men convicted of
sodomy in 1998 were ordered to be buried alive under a pile of stones.
They were allowed to live if they survived for 30 minutes.
(source: The Times)
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