Afghanistan forced to admit secret execution

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The Independent Online

Afghanistan has carried out its first execution since the overthrow of the Taliban, it emerged yesterday. Abdullah Shah, a former bandit, was last week killed with a single bullet to the back of the head at a prison just east of Kabul.

Afghanistan has carried out its first execution since the overthrow of the Taliban, it emerged yesterday. Abdullah Shah, a former bandit, was last week killed with a single bullet to the back of the head at a prison just east of Kabul.

The US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai only admitted the secretive execution after pressure from the human rights group Amnesty International. President Karzai signed the death warrant.

Shah had a reputation in Afghanistan as a brutal and callous killer. During the civil war of 1992 to 1996 he was known as "Zardad's dog", after his commander. It was said that he set upon and savaged travellers like a dog on the road between Kabul and Jalalabad. In 2002, an Afghan court found Shah guilty of 20 counts of murder, including the killing of his baby daughter and one of his wives.

But Amnesty said yesterday it feared Shah's execution "may have been an attempt by powerful political players to eliminate a key witness to human rights abuses". The organisation says Afghanistan's judicial system is "currently incapable of fulfilling even the most basic standards for fair trials". The execution was carried out despite a warning from a United Nations representative that Afghanistan's judicial system could not meet international safeguards.

Asma Jahangir, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, who attended Shah's trial in 2002, called for a moratorium on capital punishment in Afghanistan until the country's judicial system could be brought up to international standards.

Under the Taliban, Afghan-istan carried out hundreds of executions, many of them in public before vast crowds.

But Shah's execution was carried out secretly at Pul-e Charki jail on 19 or 20 April. Although the Afghan attorney-general's office said the execution took place in front of witnesses, the government did not admit to the killing until it was revealed in a protest e-mail by Amnesty yesterday.

Amnesty charged that Shah was not allowed defence counsel at his trial, and was not given the opportunity to question witnesses. It said he was denied a public hearing, and that he was kept in leg irons before a "special court" which heard his case behind closed doors.

Shah claimed in court that he was forced to sign a confession, and tortured. He allegedly displayed injuries to his teeth and hands, but his claims of torture were never investigated.

Mr Karzai's office insisted yesterday that the Afghan President had signed the death warrant reluctantly. A spokesman for Mr Karzai said he had ordered a review of the case and delayed implementation of the death sentence.

Amnesty alleged yesterday that during his detention, Shah gave evidence against regional commanders "implicated in serious crimes" against whom no charges have been brought.

Meanwhile, suspected Taliban members attacked a government office and a local charity in Panjwayi, in Kandahar province, in southern Afghanistan yesterday, killing a soldier and two humanitarian workers. Local police opened fire, killing two of the attackers.

It is the latest in a series of attacks, believed to have been staged by the resurgent Taliban, that have raised concerns ahead of Afghan elections scheduled for September.

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