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A dissident’s account of a Taliban torture facility (Part III)

This is the third and final chapter of a student’s account of the year he spent in Taliban prison and torture chambers. The first and second parts were previously published by Zan Times.  

I drew the 60th line on the wall, proving that I had been in prison for two months. That day, they called my name and another of my cell mates. We were supposed to be transferred to Directorate 40.

When we got out of the car at the intelligence directorate, it was very cold. They took us into an office where they removed our eye coverings. It was warmer there. A Talib who was sitting behind a desk recorded our names on the computer, then they used a biometric device to again take our fingerprints. After biometrics, we were transferred to the directorate’s prison, where they told everyone to sit facing the wall. No one had the right to talk or look around.

 A doctor wearing a white coat and holding a piece of paper asked me my name, then my medical history. I showed him the bruises on my body and said that my back hurts. The doctor did not pay attention, saying, “These are not new.” When I said that they were due to torture by the Taliban, he responded, “Don’t talk too much, you are OK now.” 

He sent all eight of us to the prison corridor of Block H and wrote cell numbers on our hands. He sent me to cell nine where 12 others were imprisoned.

The next day, a young Talib asked me to follow him. We entered a room that looked like a computer lab, where my biometric data was again recorded: First, he took my photo from different angles, then he measured my step, finally my fingerprints. He registered my crime “Publication against Islamic Emirate.” 

My cellmates had talked about what they called the sunbathing program on Sundays. “It’s your turn, come” said a Talib. I was barefoot as I walked outside. I had been deprived of this most basic thing for a long time. I looked up at the blue sky of Kabul and the sun that shines on everyone equally. My share of that sun was only 10 minutes. 

Each block in Directorate 40 had a special room for the lead prisoner. His duty was to distribute food and take the prisoners to the bathroom three times a day. No one had the right to go to the bathroom other than those three times, meaning people with health issues had to use a bottle.

After 10 days, my name was called again. When I moved into the hall, I asked my block’s lead prisoner where they were taking me. “For calling,” he said. Each corridor had a space where they put a big screen to see all the CCTV feeds from cameras in the corridors. The prisoners called the space “The table,” where Taliban were on duty 24 hours a day. 

I stood in a line of prisoners waiting for my turn to use a phone. A Talib recorded the names of the prisoners and the numbers they called in a notebook. When it was my turn, he explained, “You only have the right to say in one sentence: ‘I am a prisoner in Directorate 40, come to see me in 20 days – Saturday is a women’s visiting day and Wednesday is a men’s visiting day.’”

I gave him my brother’s number. He dialed the number then handed me the phone. My brother did not recognize my voice. When I introduced myself, his voice trembled. “Are you alive? Where are you?” he asked. I had a lump in my throat but was able to repeat the sentence given to me by the Talib. He took the phone and I returned to my cell. 

On the 15th day in that cell, my name was called again. A Talib wearing a white turban and a mask took me to a room in Block M. When I entered the room, I saw a file on a table. They had printed everything I had written on Twitter. I soon realized that this Talib could not correctly read my writings. Looking at the file, he asked, “Did you write these things yourself?” “Yes,” I said. He then asked, “Why did you write?” I said, “I didn’t know it was a crime. If I had known, I would not have done this.” 

I stayed in the punishment cell for 20 days and after that they transferred me to a semi-punishment cell in Block D. The difference between the rooms is that the punishment cells were small and the prisoners in it received two cups of tea a day, one in the morning and one at night, while prisoners in semi-punishment cells received three cups. My new cell was full of people and there was no room for me. But, according to the agreement between the prisoners, each man was given a space of one prayer mat.

On Wednesday, I counted the moments until I could see my brother. As the hours passed, I worriedly asked myself, “Why don’t they call my name?” It was around 4 p.m. when I heard my name being called. 

The appointment room was very big. I was surprised by the large number of prisoners as I waited in line for nearly 20 minutes. In the middle of the room, there was a wall with glass on the top half. Visitors on one side of the wall could talk to prisoners on the other side of the glass through a phone. My brother’s eyes filled with tears when he saw me in my yellow prison uniform. I asked about the health of our mother, father, and other family members.

My brother asked why I was imprisoned and what he and our family could do. I told him that they can’t do anything and that my situation is better here and they didn’t torture me. We had just five minutes before a white-bearded Talib said, “Just one more word and say goodbye.” With that, I said goodbye to my brother and returned to my cell.

After 25 days, I was taken for interrogation. This time, in addition to the person who previously asked about my social media posts, there was another Talib. He had a more frightening look and wore big dark glasses, which covered his face. After opening my file, he asked about my personal life, starting with my birth, then schooling. Then he asked about my membership in political parties, as well as my previous and current addresses.

His last question was whether the writings in the file were from me or someone else. My answer was that it is all my own. Then the two interrogators talked quietly to each other then asked me to put my thumbprint on a paper which was written in Pashto. I told them to read it out loud so I could check it, or whether I could read what they had written. They forcibly put ink on my thumb and pressed it onto the paper.

They had also printed out all the phone numbers from my phone and asked me to write the names for each of those numbers. Then, they sent me back to my semi-punishment cell. This was my last interrogation. I would spend months in prison waiting for my court date. Prisoners told me that it usually takes four to five months.

My brother visited me every week, and, during every visit, I told him that my court date might be this week. When someone from our cell was taken to the court, we were all happy for that person and hoped that our turn would be next. Sometimes they didn’t take anyone to court for two or three weeks and when I asked lead prisoners what was happening, they explained, “The judges have gone to Kandahar.”

One day, the Taliban told us that we were being transferred to Pul-e-Charkhi prison. I panicked. My hope of being released seemed even more distant. At Pul-e-Charkhi, we were put in blocks, where drug traffickers were imprisoned. These blocks were built by the Americans and were scary places.

After 11 months in Pul-e-Charkhi, my name was finally called again. I lost any hope for freedom. They handcuffed me, blindfolded me and put me in a car. They brought me back to Directorate 40. A Talib with a red-coloured beard entered the room. He told me that my offense has been forgiven. “You have repented, you have been forgiven, now it is your duty to pray for the Islamic Emirate so that this system remains stable,” he explained. I could only reply, “Maulvi Sahib, for sure.” The Talib emphasized that I should work with and support the Islamic Emirate. Again, I agreed. 

I was overjoyed to be told that my family would pick me up in two hours. I was overjoyed to be released on bail. Finally, I smelled freedom.

 *Abdul Rahman Haqmal is the pseudonym for a student who was imprisoned by the Taliban and who is now living in exile.