The National Directorate of Security (NDS) on Wednesday handed over two civil society activists, Musa Mahmoudi and Ehsanullah Hamidi, to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).
The two men, who reported widespread allegations of sex abuse of boys in Logar province earlier in November, were detained by the NDS last week but released today after condemnation by Amnesty International, AIHRC, the UN as well as the US, UK, German, and Dutch embassies.
The NDS originally declined to confirm or deny reports that they held the activists, but on Tuesday the agency stated that they had taken the activists into custody to “protect” them from death threats, and the agency released a video of Musa Mahmoudi saying that his research on sex abuse (of students in Logar) was “incomplete” and “incorrect” and it was “exaggerated” by the media and he "apologizes to the people."
US Ambassador John Bass on Twitter blasted the NDS, saying such “Soviet-style” tactics of coercing confessions was “appalling.”
This was re-tweeted by German ambassador Peter Prugel who commented: “This is just shameful and embarrassing and profoundly disturbs my perception of a professional NDS.”
The former head of the NDS, Rahmatullah Nabil, tweeted: “With full responsibility I can say that, without instruction from the Presidential Palace, NDS will not take such a decision by their own.”
Officials from AIHRC confirmed that both activists had been handed-over.
“They have been released by the National Directorate of Security and currently they are being kept in a safe place,” said Zabiullah Farhang, head of AIHRC’s media department.
“This issue needs to be investigated, because it’s a threat to freedom of speech and press freedom,” said Reza Moeeni, a member of Reporters without Borders in Afghanistan.
“It has no legal justification. In our perspective, it is against the law and therefore unnacceptable. I think it was more a political approach to the issue rather than a legal action,” said legal expert Abdul Wahid Farzayee.
In a new development, Matiullah Sarwar, a freelance journalist in Logar, claimed he was threatened by Shapor Hussainzoi, a member of the Afghan parliament from Logar, because of his cooperation with TOLOnews to report on the sexual abuse allegations.
“Matiullah Sarwar should be imprisoned tonight and he must be referred to the Attorney General,” said Shapor Hussainzoi on the audio recording that was obtained by TOLOnews. TOLOnews report did not manage to get a comment from Hussainzoi.
“Shapor Hussainzoi will be responsible for any threat or action against me. Both the government and the human rights commission should be aware of this,” said Matiullah.
“Media outlets are pushing our society towards their desired path in pursuit of their personal interests. Foreign spy agencies are behind this to implement their ideology here. I pray that these topics that are circulating today are proved wrong,” said Sayed Ahmad Khadem, a lawmaker.
The NDS kept the two activists in captivity for five days. But the detention sparked a strong backlash inside and outside Afghanistan.
“If civil society activists are arrested and their rights are violated, then such a move will prevent our people from cooperating with the government,” said Samiullah, a resident in Kabul.
“This approach increases our fear and this also dampens our will to report those acts that are against the law,” said Helal, a resident in Kabul.