A 76-year-old Afghan man went on trial in the Netherlands on February 16 for allegedly committing war crimes against political prisoners while overseeing a notorious prison in Kabul.
The suspect, identified as Abdul R., is accused of being the commander of Pul-e-Charkhi prison, where prisoners were allegedly held without trial, tortured, and executed.
He has been formally charged with being an accessory to inhuman treatment and the deprivation of liberty. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years to life if convicted.
The suspect told the judges hearing the case at a court in The Hague that his prosecution was a case of mistaken identity.
"I am not the person you are looking for," he told the court before refusing to answer questions, saying that he felt ill and wanted to return to his prison cell. "I don't remember anything, not even my own name."
Prosecutors say they are convinced they have the right person. They allege that he was a commander and head of political affairs at the prison from 1983 to 1990, when thousands of opponents of the communist regime were held without fair trials.
Witness testimony read in court said that people were regularly subjected to torture, including electrocution, beatings, or the removal of their fingernails, and they were held in cramped and unsanitary conditions.
"Inmates were being executed without trial. At night prisoners were being shot," said a witness statement.
The case is being heard in the Netherlands because the suspect has Dutch nationality. He moved to the country in 2001, allegedly under a false name.
The father of five children was arrested at his home in the 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.”
The trial is the latest in a series of efforts in European countries to bring people to account for crimes in conflict-torn countries, including Syria and Afghanistan.