Story edited by Wahidullah Azizi, Integrity Watch Afghanistan
Aziza, who like the majority of Afghans goes by her first name, was illegally detained for more than five months for charges of embezzlement. She was detained allegedly under the Penal Code by Balkh Provincial Prosecutor and the Balkh Appellate Court ordered the continuation of her detention.
Aziza used to provide microfinance services to communities in Balkh. She resigned for personal reasons. The former employee was sued by the bank for embezzlement of some AFN 1.7 million. Initially, the case was recorded as a civil dispute and not a criminal one. But in July 2017, Aziza was arrested after her case was sent to the Balkh Provincial Appellate Prosecutor.
In the meanwhile, relatives of Aziza sought help from Integrity Watch’s Balkh office. Provincial coordinator of Integrity Watch Balkh shared the issue with Provincial Integrity Network (PIN), a network of volunteers formed and facilitated by Integrity Watch in six provinces and works for the promotion of transparency and accountability in their respective provinces. Balkh PIN decided to look into the case of Aziza and met with the bank and the Appellate Prosecutor. The prosecutors refused to share their findings of the case with the network. At the same time, Aziza was told to provide a credible bail for her release. Following a few days of tireless efforts, Aziza provided the prosecutors with the bail and later found out that her bail was rejected.
Balkh PIN notified the concerned judicial departments that they are following the case and advised them to thoroughly look into the case. Following it, the case saw a reduction of more than 61 percent of the amount claimed by the bank. It is worth mentioning that while this investigation was going on, Aziza and her five colleagues were illegally detained for months while the law allows only a maximum of 75 days in detention provided there are sufficient grounds for detention.
The courts in Balkh could not decide the jurisdiction of the case; the case was sent back and forth between the courts several times. Finally, the Supreme Court referred the case to the Balkh Appellate Court and also made it clear that the case is a civil dispute. As a result, only after five months Aziza and her five colleagues were released from detention to pursue their case under a civil dispute mechanism.
Illegal detention by police and prosecutors is a common practice in many provinces of Afghanistan. Many of such cases go unnoticed for months and sometimes even for years. The PIN members are making an effort to increase their monitoring of such cases in order to defend people in illegal detention.