THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Dutch prosecutors urged judges Thursday to impose a 12-year prison sentence on a 76-year-old Afghan man they accuse of involvement in war crimes in a Kabul prison in the 1980s.
As his trial opened Wednesday at The Hague District Court, the suspect, identified as Abdul Razzaq Rafief, told judges his prosecution was a case of mistaken identity. Police believe his surname when he lived in Afghanistan was Arief.
Dutch war crimes prosecutors are convinced they have the right man after interviewing about 25 witnesses around the world and tapping the phones of the suspect and his family before arresting him at his home in the southern Dutch city of Kerkrade in 2019.
“The punishment must be an effective warning to perpetrators of international crimes," prosecutors said in a statement. “They need to know that wherever they go or stand, even if it’s far away, justice can catch them. Even if it takes years, sometimes even decades.”
Prosecutors told judges that the suspect was commander and Head of Political Affairs from 1983-1990 at the notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul, where political prisoners were detained in cramped, filthy cells and routinely tortured.
At the time, Soviet occupation troops and Afghan forces were fighting rebels backed by the United States and Pakistan. The Soviet forces left Afghanistan in 1989, but the Afghan government continued the fight until 1992.
The suspect is standing trial in the Netherlands, under Dutch law, because he successfully applied for asylum in 2001 — prosecutors say he used a false name when he arrived and was granted Dutch citizenship.
He is formally charged with being an accessory to inhuman treatment and deprivation of liberty, charges that carry a maximum sentence of 20 years to life.
The trial is not the first time Dutch courts have tackled war crimes committed in Afghanistan.
In 2008, the Supreme Court upheld the torture convictions by lower courts in The Hague of two high-ranking officers in Afghanistan’s military intelligence service.