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Last Updated: Monday, 27 February 2006, 17:40 GMT
Kabul's prison of death
By Bilal Sarwary
BBC News, Kabul

Pul-e-Charkhi  prison near Kabul
Pul-e-Charkhi is a huge prison complex built in the 1970s
Afghanistan's Pul-e-Charkhi prison is notorious for the murder and torture of thousands of people during the Communist era.

Many were buried alive. Thousands disappeared, their families unsure if they were alive or dead.

Afghans have bitter memories of the jail under every government that has ruled the country.

Nowadays the vast and rundown jail on the outskirts of Kabul is used to house common criminals and al-Qaeda and Taleban suspects alike.

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Among those inside Afghanistan's biggest prison are Timur Shah, a gang leader on death row for murder who kidnapped an Italian aid worker in 2005, and Jack Idema, a US ex-special forces soldier jailed for torturing Afghans.

'It was our turn'

Haji Nawroaz Khan, a former Mujahideen fighter from eastern Nangarhar province, was jailed in Pul-e-Charkhi by the Communists.

I once prayed to God to please take my life here in the jail or help me get out
Former inmate Haji Nawroaz Khan

"I remember that the Communists would come and they would electrocute us. They put hot water on us and beat us with cables," he says.

"I want this prison to be closed and kept as a museum to remember the atrocities of the Communists.

"The things which eats me alive is that those people are back. Some are in the parliament, some are in the government.

"I once prayed to God to please take my life here in the jail or help me get out.

"I got out when the Mujahideen government took over. It was only the second time in the history of the prison that the gates had been opened and prisoners released."

Haji Noar Rahman from Kunar province also spent time in the jail.

Nothing here is good - even Guantanamo Bay is better than Pul-e-Charkhi
Inmate Mohammad Syed Gul

"Every night they would take people... The Communists were torturing us every night and killing us every night," he says.

Other prisoners from northern Afghanistan didn't want to be named.

"I was jailed there for two years under President Hafizullah Amin," one told the BBC.

"Every night they would take 60 people outside the prison, make them stand in line, then shoot them all and put them into a pit. Bulldozers would came and put sand and clay in it.

"On the night when President Hafizullah Amin was killed it was our turn. They had even taken our clothes and given us different ones they made prisoners wear before they were killed.

"I am really lucky because we were the very few who survived."

Guards accused

Most Afghan friends of mine have dreadful stories of loved ones dying or spending time in Pul-e-Charkhi.

Among them is journalist Hanif Sherzad.

"I consider myself really lucky because my dad was jailed there and he came out alive. Most people would not," he says.

After the Red Army pulled out and the Soviet-backed government collapsed in 1992, Pul-e-Charkhi was used as a base by Northern Alliance forces against the Taleban, with more harrowing tales of abuse and murder.

Nowadays things have improved, but prisoners complain that guards take bribes on a regular basis and that prison authorities treat them inhumanely.

Mohammad Syed Gul, a prisoner from Nangarhar province, was arrested on drugs charges.

"The real criminals are the police here who are to protect us," he told the BBC last year.

"They even take the meat out of the soup and eat it themselves. They take the fruit sometimes.

"Nothing here is good - even Guantanamo Bay is better than Pul-e-Charkhi."

Uprisings

Pul-e-Charkhi was commissioned in the 1970s by then president Daoud Khan.

The huge jail complex was incomplete when the Communists took over and Daoud Khan was killed.

There have been several uprisings by prisoners over the years, most of them during the Moscow-backed Communist government.

Part of the prison is currently being rebuilt to house the majority of Afghan terror suspects detained by the US at Guantanamo Bay.

Thousands of prisoners can be held in the many blocks of the jail, built in a desolate landscape far from houses or other humans.

Inmates are surrounded by four high walls made of stone and cement, with a watch tower at each corner.

The jail Pul-e-Charkhi replaced, Demazang, was also notorious.

Jumma Khan, a former inmate who survived, told the BBC he remembers little sun and damp, dark cells.

"They didn't need to kill you in Demazang - they would put you there and you would die."


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Afghan soldiers arrive at the jail



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US soldiers on patrol in Kabul on 15 March 2009

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