Prisons, Etc.

by Joshua Foust on 12/5/2008

Big riot at the infamous Pul-e Charkhi prison just east of Kabul today. They’re saying at least 8 are dead (one of my friends nearby says it is more like 10).

Kabul, Afghanistan - Google Maps

There are two very interesting competing narratives for the riot. One holds that the prisoners were protesting the poor conditions inside. The other is that they resisted attempts by the guards to search their cells for mobile phones or other indications that the prisoners were in contact with insurgents planning an escape. We do not have enough information to say what’s right, though the latter is perfectly plausible and will probably wind up being at least partially true.

It is important, however, to remember that prisons in Afghanistan are very unpleasant places. While that might seem like a “no duh” statement, and even has some cachet here with the scattered allegations of prisoner abuse in U.S. custody, the fact remains that Afghan-run prisons are awful places. The number of executions this year is up, and the UN has recently claimed that more than half of the people in Afghan custody have been held without trial for long periods of time. Naturally, it’s the poor and least connected who suffer the most, regardless of guilt or innocence.

All of which is to say: it is possible that living conditions may have contributed to the riot. But we just don’t know yet.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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