By Amir Shah
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
KABUL, Oct. 8 -- Afghanistan executed 15 prisoners by gunfire, including a man convicted of killing three Western journalists and an Afghan photographer, the chief of prisons said Monday. It was the first time the country had carried out the death penalty in more than three years.
The mass execution took place Sunday evening according to Afghan law, which calls for condemned prisoners to be shot to death, said Abdul Salam Ismat, the prisons chief.
During the 1996-2001 rule of Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban government, executions were carried out in public, many of them at the war-shattered Kabul stadium, but the practice stopped after the Islamic extremist movement was ousted from power in a U.S.-led invasion.
The previous execution, in April 2004, had been denounced by the London-based human rights group Amnesty International, which said President Hamid Karzai had assured the group he would institute a moratorium on the death penalty.
Karzai's spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, would not comment Monday but said last week that the president "has been holding on to these cases because he wants to make sure that justice is served and due process is complete."
The mass execution is likely to complicate relationships between Afghanistan and some NATO members with military forces in the country. International troops often take suspected fighters prisoner and later hand them over to the Afghan government, but some foreign governments would bar that if Afghanistan uses capital punishment.
The official announcement said Karzai ordered the executions following a decision by a special commission he had set up to review rulings by the Supreme Court.
Tom Koenigs, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said the world body has expressed its concern over use of the death penalty many times.
"The United Nations in Afghanistan has been a staunch supporter of the moratorium on executions observed in Afghanistan in recent years," Koenigs said.
Among those executed was Reza Khan, sentenced for adultery and the slaying of the three foreign journalists and the Afghan photographer in 2001. The four were pulled from their cars, robbed and shot near the eastern city of Jalalabad while traveling toward Kabul, six days after the Taliban had abandoned the capital following heavy U.S. bombing.
Also executed was Farhad, who like many Afghans goes by one name. He was convicted of involvement in the 2005 kidnapping of an Italian aid worker, Clementina Cantoni.