KABUL, Afghanistan – So many people were buried alive by bulldozers in the barren fields around the Pul-e-Charkhi Prison on Kabul’s outskirts that guilty soldiers later said it was like an earthquake as their victims tried to claw their way out.
Thirty-four years later, the names and details of nearly 5,000 of those victims — arrested, tortured and killed by the Afghan Communist government in 1978 and 1979 — have resurfaced, cataloged in detailed records released this month.
Although the death lists were originally compiled by the Afghan government and languished, unreleased, for decades, they were unearthed by Dutch investigators and have been published on the website of the Netherlands national prosecutor’s office.
The Afghan government’s reaction to the release of the lists was initially cautious, and President Hamid Karzai was quoted as saying that reconciliation was more important than prosecutions.
It is a sensitive issue in Afghanistan, and not just because so many former Communist officials now hold high positions in government, especially in the military and police hierarchies. Calls to prosecute old Communists inevitably lead to calls to prosecute all those who came after them and committed massacres of their own during the three decades of conflict that followed.
But as word spread among thousands of relatives of the victims, the death lists went viral, lighting up social media among a younger generation, and bringing calls from older people for prosecutions. Finally, pressed by Sima Samar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Karzai declared Monday and Tuesday national days of mourning.
Mosques in Kabul and throughout the country were thronged with mourners for the victims Monday, and many memorials were planned in rural villages that were particularly hard-hit by the wave of torture and killings carried out by Afghanistan’s intelligence service at the time.
The chain of events that led to the lists’ discovery began with an asylum request by Amanullah Osman, head of interrogation for Afghan intelligence in 1978 and 1979, who fled to the Netherlands in 1993. In his asylum interview, according to the prosecutor’s office, Osman admitted to signing documents concerning people who were to be executed. The Dutch denied him asylum but never expelled him, and eventually opened up a war crimes investigation. That led them to a 93-year-old Afghan refugee in Germany who gave them the death lists, which she had gotten from a former U.N. official, Felix Ermacora, who had never released them.