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Eastern Afghanistan courts open trials to public

Written by Story by U.S. Army Spc. Richard Daniels Jr.
Task Force Bastogne Public Affairs

BastogneFort Campbell KY, 101st Airborne DivisionNangarhar Province, Afghanistan – The Jalalabad City Primary Court held a public trial October 19th, a rarity within Regional Command – East.

The court tried and prosecuted Zarif Ullah for a July 24th kidnapping. The intended victim was a money exchanger. When Ullah and his two partners ambushed him, the exchanger ran away, but they abducted his son. The final verdict was 13 years imprisonment.

“It was a fair verdict on behalf of the courthouse against him,” said Salih Rahman Keniwal, legal advisor with the Task Force Bastogne judge advocate. “In the past, we had some problems with judges not making fair decisions. But this time, in my own opinion, it was a fair judgment and punishment for him.”

TF Bastogne and 630th Military Police, Task Force Spartan, representatives attended the trial to see the growing progress in Afghanistan’s legal system.

“We were there just as observers …,” said U.S. Army Capt. Seung K. Lee of New York City, NY, a rule of law attorney with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, TF Bastogne. “Just to see how the trial was actually going to play out, whether there were going to be any witnesses, what the verdict was going to be; how the judge set up the trial. We were there to just see how things were done,” he said. “It went very well, they did an excellent job.”

Lee continued with a recollection of the trial.

“… three of the judges sat at the table and the prosecutor started with his allegations against the suspect. He puts forward the facts of the case and why he thinks the guy is guilty. After that, they had numerous witnesses.”

He said numerous people testified including a National Directorate of Security prosecutor and an agent from the Criminal Investigative Department, the victim and his father, the kidnapper and his parents.

“The [kidnapper] had a defense attorney and he spoke on his behalf,” said Lee.

Due to improved security, Keniwal noticed one significant change within the court system.

“For me the most important thing is the testimony against each other,” said Keniwal. “In the past, we’ve had some public trials but no one went to testify against each other based on the security situation in Nangarhar.

People were afraid to testify because villagers often threatened to harm or kill anyone who did. “Like we had kidnapping cases, we had robbery cases, but if you asked anyone to testify, they would not,” he said.

Keniwal explained that now witnesses testified even though they were scared because the Afghan National Police gave them protection.

“Public trials are extremely important for a multitude of reasons,” said Lee. “Public trials tend to reduce corruption, they raise legal awareness and they increase the competency of judicial and law enforcement officers. It allows them to practice their job in an open public setting, which is open to scrutiny and shows the people what they are doing,” he said. “Having public trials is a great way to clean up a lot of the issues with corruption and incompetence and the lack of legal awareness in the country.”


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