In unusually frank comments on April 21, Afghanistan's new prison chief Ahmad Rashid Totakhail complained to journalists about widespread abuses in the country's prison system.
Totakhail described problems ranging from the lack of a comprehensive database on the length of detainees' sentences to sexual abuse of underage prisoners and a general lack of access to medical care. Female prison employees also regularly complained of sexual harassment at the hands of their colleagues, he added.
Corruption was also rife in the system, he said, a weakness that prisoners were exploiting to get their hands on drugs or smartphones.
Authorities had initially believed visitors were bringing drugs into prisons, Totakhail said. Only a coronavirus-related ban on visitors had revealed the truth that prison staff were behind the smuggling.
A number of detainees at Pul-e-Charkhi prison, the country’s largest detention facility, had been on hunger strike in recent days in what has been described as a protest against poor hygiene and scarce provisions.
A spokesman for the prison said the inmates had been demanding "amnesty" in light of the pandemic, but had since ended the strike. Afghanistan has so far released more than 5,000 detainees, mostly women, juveniles, and sick people, to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading in prisons.
According to government sources, approximately 43,000 people are in detention in Afghanistan. Human rights organizations have long complained of poor conditions in Afghanistan's prisons, with accusations ranging from poor prison infrastructure to torture.