Afghan warlord convicted by British court of torture

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Zardad Faryadi Sarwar (also known as Zardad Khan and Commander Zardad), a warlord who controlled several checkpoints at the road between Kabul and Jalalabad in Afghanistan in the early 1990s, was convicted today of torture and hostage-taking. The Court at Old Bailey in London found that Zardad pursued a reign of fear along his checkpoints and ordered summary executions and torture of innocent civilians. He was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.

Zardad denied all charges throughout the trials, and claimed he had been set up by enemies in Afghanistan.

"I have never killed anybody and if anybody in the whole of Afghanistan can produce that evidence against me then I will accept that crime," he said.

The case is considered to be a landmark in international law. British law allows the prosecution of crimes like torture and hostage-taking in the UK even if no British citizen was involved and the incidents occurred overseas. "There are some crimes which are so heinous, such an affront to justice, that they can be tried in any country", Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith said.

Zardad fled to the UK in 1998 after he had fought both the Russians and the Taliban in Afghanistan's long civil war. He settled in a suburban London home and was first confronted by BBC Journalist John Simpson in 2000. Simpson's report sparked a lengthy investigation that would eventually lead to British prosecutors travelling to Afghanistan and questioning Zardad's victims. A first trial began in 2004 but failed because the jury couldn't agree on a verdict.