New York [United States], Dec.21 : Urging Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani to protect witnesses who are at risk of being victimised by one time warlord Farvadi Sarwar Zardad, Patricia Gossman, one of the witnesses who testified against him 15 years ago, has said in an article published by Human Rights Watch (HRW), that these extraordinarily brave witnesses are in grave danger.
"I stood in the witness box in a courtroom at the Old Bailey, London's historic Central Criminal Court, to testify in the case of Faryadi Sarwar Zardad, an archetypal Afghan warlord who in the 1990s abducted and tortured travellers on a stretch of road he controlled east of Kabul," says Grossman.
Zardad was convicted and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment on the basis of their testimony, but UK authorities last week abruptly announced the parole of Zardad, 11 years into his sentence, and deported him to Afghanistan.
Zardad's case was a landmark one, in the sense that it was the first ever held in the United Kingdom under universal jurisdiction - which allows prosecutions of non-nationals for serious crimes committed abroad.
"Incredibly, and unforgivably, British officials didn't even bother to warn the witnesses until a few days before that they were returning this still-dangerous criminal into their midst.
None of the witnesses have any protection from this man, who retains his supporters and has shown a willingness to commit torture and other crimes.
After briefly detaining Zardad upon arrival in Kabul, the Afghan government yesterday released him, after an unnamed high-ranking official intervened on his behalf.
Many now fear that Zardad may seek revenge against those who put him away in a British prison cell, and no one in Kabul seems willing to try to stop him," Grossman claims.
She further states that, "The UK Home Office has shamefully washed its hands of the case, the Afghan government can and should protect those witnesses most at risk.
Zardad was tried in the UK for a limited number of cases of hostage-taking and torture, but nothing prevents Afghan authorities from investigating him for the many other serious crimes he's alleged to have committed.
The government should also impose parole restrictions on him, and scrupulously monitor his compliance in order to protect those who testified against him." President Ashraf Ghani recently vowed to "protect every citizen" in accordance with Afghanistan's human rights obligations, even if it means investigating prominent political figures.
To show that he's serious, he should start with Zardad, says Grossman, adding that if he fails to stand by those who bravely took the witness stand 15 years ago, Zardad's victims will realise the sobering truth that if you must speak out, also know that no one will protect you.