THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A 76-year-old Afghan man went on trial in the Netherlands on Wednesday on charges of mistreating political prisoners in a notorious Kabul prison in the 1980s.
The suspect, identified as Abdul Razzaq Rafief, told judges at The Hague District Court that his prosecution was a case of mistaken identity. Police believe his surname when he lived in Afghanistan was Arief.
“I am not the person you think I am,” he said.
He is formally charged with being an accessory to inhuman treatment and deprivation of liberty. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years to life if convicted.
Prosecutors allege that he was a commander and head of Political Affairs at the Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul from 1983-1990, when thousands of opponents of the communist regime were held for years without fair trials.
Witness testimony read in court said that people were regularly tortured — sometimes through electrocution, beatings or having their fingernails pulled out — and held in cramped and unsanitary conditions.
“You wouldn’t keep animals in a barn the way we were held there,” one written witness statement said.
A team of Dutch war crimes investigators traveled around the world to interview victims and witnesses for the case that is being held in the Netherlands because the suspect has Dutch nationality after moving to the country in 2001, allegedly under a false name.
The father of five children was arrested at his home in the southern Dutch city of Kerkrade in 2019 and has been jailed ever since.
“We think it’s very important that these war crimes — the most serious crimes existing — are eventually prosecuted no matter how long ago they were committed,” prosecutor Mirjam Blom told The Associated Press. “And we don’t want the Netherlands to be a safe haven for war criminals, even if the crimes happened long ago and far away from the Netherlands.”