Afghan Man Serves 20-year Sentence in Prison for Writing Article

Mizghan Ahmadi came home from first-grade class one evening in September 2012, but her father Zaman Ahmadi did not make it home. Unlike many Afghans caught up in suicide bombing in the cities, Zaman was caught up in police custody, namely the 13th Police district of Kabul city, the Afghan capital.

When his family arrived at police custody, the Afghan police officers told them that Zaman had become infield and had been transported to the country’s intelligence agency headquarters for further investigation. That night was the beginning of seven years filled with misery for both Zaman Ahmadi in prison, and his two teenage daughters and wife outside.

“Teachers and classmates tell me my father is infield. I have wept many times in the school,” said Mizghan Ahmadi, 15-year old who now studies in the eighth grade. “My sister [13-year old Zohal] comes home every day crying.”

Mizghan and Zolah have grown up with their father in prison on charge of blasphemy and apostasy, an issue that put heavy social shame on the shoulders of elementary school students to carry on. “I have always felt something was missing in my life,” said Mizghan.

Many countries supporting freedom of expression have poured millions of dollars into Afghanistan to build fair judicial institutions for the last 18-years, but poor Zaman had been rotting in prison for simply drafting an article.

After years of working abroad and with primary qualifications in Islamic studies, Zaman wanted to try his luck at writing and to discover himself as a writer of sorts in the country. In 2012 on the anniversary of the destruction of the Buddha statues, Zaman drafted a four-page article, in which he examined why the Taliban bombed Buddha statues in 2001.

Zaman discussed Buddhas and Buddhism, four possible reasons behind the destruction of Buddha, including the Taliban having followed the doctrine of Islam. He submitted his 4,000 word-long article in Persian to the country’s leading newspapers, but none of them accepted the piece. Editors of a small monthly publication in the western Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood, Kabul, appointed a meeting with Ahmadi to discuss the article and the possibility of publishing it.

“We had been talking for two hours and I did not expect to see the police,” said Zaman Ahmadi, in his 40s. “The police officers arrived, handcuffed me,” and put him in their vehicles. A member of staff from the publication had informed the country’s intelligence agency about Zaman Ahmadi, and in return received 500 Afghani (USD 6.4). He was allegedly proud of arresting an infield man, said a friend in private conversation.

Long months of interrogations followed after the detention. Attorneys interrogated him, often with insults, according to Ahmadi. “They would often call for me, ask me some questions, and then nothing,” said Ahmadi in phone interview from Pul-e-Charghi prison, the country’s largest prison.

His first and last trial was held in March 2013. When Zaman entered the primary court in Kabul city, the judge slapped him and ordered him to leave the court, he claimed. Despite Ahmadi declaring he was Muslim, the judges convicted him to 20-year sentence in prison on charges of blasphemy and apostasy.

“As the article was not published, it was not a formal document, but only a personal memo,” said Mohammad Farhang, an independent lawyer based in Kabul. “The judge’s decision was legally and religiously baseless. The decision was caused by grudge and feelings.”

Mahdi Ahmadi, brother of Zaman Ahmadi, visited Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission and the country’s attorney general in vain on multiple occasions. Mahdi was told that his brother had no other way, but to serve 20 years in Pul-e-Charghi prison.

“We are concerned with the trial of Zaman Ahmadi,” said Zaman Sultani the regional researcher at Amnesty International. “Mr. Ahmadi was mistreated by the judges and was not informed about the judge’s decision.”

In late 2017, Integrity Watch Afghanistan reported on Afghan prisons and detention centres. The watchdog body documented inhumane conditions in the facilities, including severe overcrowding and insufficient toilets, potable water and mattresses. The situation was worse for Zaman, who has been bearing additional burdens. The Taliban prisoners beat him up and the prison authorities mistreated him regularly, Zaman said.

“It is [the arrest of Zaman Ahmad] violation of freedom of expression,” said Jawad Zawulistani, a human rights defender in Kabul. “He [Zaman Ahmadi] is a victim of the institutional corruption and nepotism. If he had a network, he would not have to have been prisoned.”

For seven years, Zaman remained in prison and immersed himself in writing Facebook posts, poems, and short stories in a bid to bear the unbearable nights and days inside the prison. Using feature phones, he was able to manage a Facebook account. One trend on social media pages brings a smile to his face: the support and demands of Afghan social media users to free Zaman.

“The support of people heals my wounds,” said Zaman Ahmadi who has 3,702 friends on Facebook. Ordinary people visit him in the prison, pose for a photo, and post it on social media. “I am deeply grateful for your visit,” Zaman writes a thank-you post, with a digital signature of “Ahmadi, sixth block, Pul-e-Charghi prison.”

“The commission is following up with Ahmadi’s case, because we think there were serious issues and the case needs to be re-considered,” said Shahrazad Akbar, chairperson of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission. “We sent a letter to AGO [Attorney General Office] and advocated for appealing.”

The country’s attorney general referred his case to the country’s Supreme Court to make a final decision on Zaman Ahmadi’s case, as he was initially denied for appeal. The Supreme Court was unavailable to comment on the case, despite InsideOver’s efforts.

Photos of Zaman Ahmadi displaying inside the prison and his two teenage daughters went viral on social media pages this year and put pressure on the judicial institutions to grant an appeal for Zaman Ahmadi. The Supreme Court has yet to make decision, but the attention has been shifted on the daily lives of Mizghan and Zohul who go to school hand in hand and often people eye at them when they walk to school.

“When I was younger, I felt shame for my father, but now I am proud of my father,” said Mizghan. “Writing is not a crime. He has something to say.”