Allegations of Widespread Corruption and Preferential Treatment in Herat Prison

A recent riot in Herat Central Prison left eight dead and about 17 wounded. According to a well-known official in Herat Prison, due to the escalation of clashes between prisoners and prison guards, security forces were dispatched, who surrounded the prison to quell the riot and opened fire from outside the prison. Information shared by some detainees with Herat civil society activists indicates that the main cause of the clashes was the demolition of “special” or “VIP” rooms that were illegally provided to some wealthy prisoners in exchange for payment.

Sayed Ashraf Sadat, a civil activist in Herat, told 8 Subh that some prisoners from wealthy or well-connected backgrounds were allegedly provided special rooms for 30,000 to 70,000 Afghanis, leading to protests from other prisoners. According to him, information shared by detainees with civil society activists indicates that one day before the riots in Herat Central Prison, special room amenities were seized by national security staff and prison guards.

According to Herat civil activists, there are many complaints of corruption in Herat Prison, and beds, amenities such as televisions, refrigerators, heating appliances, and mobile phones are provided to prisoners for between 5,000 and 15,000 Afghanis. A reliable source in the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) told 8 Subh that the main reason for the riots in Herat Central Prison was corruption and a prisoners’ protest against the establishment of special rooms in the fifth block of the prison.

According to the source, a delegation from the Independent Human Rights Commission is scheduled to begin its work today, Saturday, October 31, to investigate the cause and course of the clashes in Herat Prison, in addition to a joint commission that has already begun its work in this regard. There are various and conflicting accounts as to why the clashes began, with some inmates claiming that prisoners protested after cell phones, televisions, refrigerators, and some amenities from some special rooms in the fifth block were seized.

According to another account, after the creation of special and separate rooms for some prisoners in the fifth block, other prisoners started protesting. This protest intensified and finally led to a physical clash between the prisoners and the security officers. A few hours after the clash, a delegation from the country’s Prisons Administration, headed by its deputy director-general, traveled to Herat Central Prison to inspect the situation. The governor of Herat and some senior security officials, including the Head of National Security and the Police Chief of Herat, met with representatives of the protesting prisoners in prison.

Video footage leaked from inside Herat Prison during the clashes show parts of the prison being set on fire, with some inmates chanting slogans against security forces in support of the uprising. There have been reports of Taliban loyalists being involved in the conflict, but officials say these are baseless. Although the Prisons Administration has expressed its ignorance of allegations of corruption in Herat Prison, it says inmates did not react during the seizure items from the separate rooms, but attacked prison staff at the end of the day during food distribution.

Farhad Bayani, a spokesman for this department, told 8 Subh on Friday, October 30, that these rooms had been established before the creation of the Prisons Administration as an independent office, which was finally decided to be removed. He stated that the prisoners attacked the prison staff at nightfall and then proceeded to attack the other blocks after breaking the door of the fifth block. Mr. Bayani said counter-riot forces were present in the prison yard, but eventually sought the help of the Herat Police Command to contain the riot. He added that four prisoners were shot dead and four others had been poisoned with strong painkillers following the riot. He added that the drugs were given as drops to relieve the pain of drug patients in prison and that the four prisoners had been under treatment as addicts.

Farhad Bayani said that about 17 other prisoners were injured during the riot. Also, seven prison staff members were injured, including one whose condition is critical. He clarified, however, that the administration was continuing its investigation into the riot. Earlier, officials at the Prisons Administration revealed in a press conference the existence of corruption, sale and use of drugs, and sexual harassment in prisons, and at the same time announced that they would address the existing problems at a fundamental level. Ahmad Rashid Tutakhail, head of the Prison Affairs Regulation, told a news conference in Kabul in May that problems of drug use, sale, and trafficking had been present among prisoners for years, and continued to exist.

He described prison staff as drug trafficking agents in prisons, adding that while it was previously thought that visitors to prisons were responsible for drug trafficking in prisons, with the implementation of quarantine, it became clear that prison staff were among the main perpetrators of drug trafficking. According to him, corruption is widespread in various parts of the prison, including food distribution and the use of prison equipment. In response, the officials of Herat Central Prison, in another recent press conference, called the allegations of corruption in the center baseless and dismissed them.

Local officials in Herat admitted that clashes between prisoners and security forces began on Wednesday evening and continued until 4 am on Thursday. The Herat Public Health Department confirmed that some prison security personnel were beaten up by the prisoners, sustaining injuries. Dr. Aref Jalali, the chief physician of the Herat District Hospital, told 8 Subh that some of the injured were taken to the Herat District Hospital for treatment. According to him, among the eight victims of the incident, one was killed due to a gunshot wound and the reason for the death of seven others was classified as caused by unknown objects. Earlier, the Prisons Administration stated that four people had in shooting by security forces.

Herat Prison is located in one of the busiest areas of the city, in the vicinity of dozens of administrative centers and residential areas. Several hours of clashes between prisoners and heavy shelling around it caused concern among Herat residents, and Herat Governor Sayed Wahid Qatali personally apologized to the people of Herat for the disturbance in peace. The prison has six separate blocks for holding prisoners, a vocational training center, and some other facilities. In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about a plan to move the prison from the city center to a location near Herat Airport, but in the absence of proper infrastructure and the start of construction work on the new prison, this plan has not yet been implemented.