Faryadi Zardad,an Afghan brigand who tortured and held capitive travellers on a road in Afghanistan has been jailed for 20 years in Britain. This is a landmark case as it is believed to be the first time the torture conventions have been used to prosecute anyone who committed torture in another juresdiction.
The BBC played a very important part in both bringing the case to light and tracking Zardad to a London suburb where he was living in political asylum from the Taliban. He had been granted asylum after entering the UK on forged papers in 1998.
Much of the journalist work was done by the BBC’s veteran foreign correspondent John Simpson. The story was first broadcast in July 2000 on BBC2’s Newsnight. Simpsn had interviewed Mutawakil, the Taleban Foreign Minister, in Kabul during 1999.
It was a long, tough interview about why the Taleban were prepared to shelter Osama Bin Laden.
During one of his answers Mutawakil hit back. “Well, you British are sheltering the criminal Commander Zardad,” he said.
Commander Zardad was a man I knew nothing about. The Foreign Minister told me about the man who ran the checkpoint on the road to Sarobi. The dangers of the road were well known, but I’d never heard of Zardad. I told the foreign minister we would look into it.
Although the BBC grace him with the title “warlord”, like many he was more like a violent mafia family head. His band had a fort and checkpoint on the Sarobi road. They extorted tolls with threats of and actual violence. He would hold members of rival gangs hostage or exchanged them for his own men. Others he simply kidnapped for ransom, frequently beating them. One of his men was kept as a “human dog” in a cave, to be brought out to terify and bite his victims.
Simpson traced Zardad to the house in South London where he was living under his assumed name.
We staked the house out for three or four days just to make sure that this was our man. A neighbour let us use his front room to watch people come and go.
To our surprise he [Zardad] invited us in…he was very polite and offered us tea
Watch John Simpson confront Faryadi Zardad in 2000
We soon recognised the man we knew as Zardad, but the man was living there under a different name. We needed to make one last check to be sure. One of the cameramen posed as a delivery man, with a parcel addressed to Mr Zardad. He banged on the door.
“A parcel for Mr Zardad?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
We had our man. We moved in with our other camera and introduced ourselves. To our surprise he invited us in. He was very polite, offered us tea, but just as we were about to sit down he ran out of the room.
Zardad was kater arrested and charged with torture. The first trial jury failed to reach a verdict. At thhe first trial, the prosecution was conducted by Lord Goldsmith (of the “Downing Street Memorandum”)
He explained why Britain had decided to try the case, arguing that Zardad’s crimes were so “merciless” and such “an affront to justice” that they could be tried in any country.
“Mr Zardad was found in England. An international convention and English law allow the trial in England of anyone who has committed torture or hostage-taking, irrespective of where those crimes were committed.”
That is taken from this report which descibes some of the difficulties of the trial, including the need to have evidence given by video link from Kabul.
Simpson went on to be the first westerner to openly enter Kabul during the Afghan war, having walked in after being frustrated by the delays imposed by the military.