An Afghan judge fears those he once imprisoned
"Our pictures were distributed among the Taliban - they could find me quickly if I stayed behind."
Before the fall of the former Afghan government, Hekmat, not his real name, was a judge in Samangan province. He dealt with cases of public security, terrorism, drug-smuggling and anti-corruption - areas that once held him in high-esteem in his career, but now leave him vulnerable.
“In the past 20 years, we [former justice system] have imprisoned Taliban and Daesh members, government officials who had a hand in corruption, and criminals involved in various crimes,” he tells Afghan Witness (AW).
Like many professionals with links to the former government and justice system, with the return of the Taliban, Hekmat’s career has come to a standstill and his future hangs in the balance.
“After the fall of the previous government, we judges have been facing huge problems,” he says. “Since then, I have moved my address multiple times.”
According to Hekmat, the Taliban seized Samangan with such speed that he didn’t even have time to burn his documents, which he fears could be used against him in the future. “Some of my colleagues were detained by the Taliban in Samangan," he tells AW.
Hekmat describes how the roads to neighbouring provinces were blocked-off, but he changed his clothes and was able to leave overnight with a friend’s help: “Our pictures were distributed among the Taliban - they could find me quickly if I stayed behind,” he explains.
Hekmat and his family of eight had to move from Samangan to Kabul, and then again after some friends saw them - “we did not want to take further risks, so we had to leave again and move to another location” - he explains.
However, even after fleeing Samangan, Hekmat’s worries were not over.
“I received threatening calls from the Taliban members who I imprisoned. They [Taliban] sent letters to my cousin's house in Mazar-e Sharif and asked my cousins about my whereabouts.”
In recent months, there has been mounting evidence of reprisal arrests and killings against activists, journalists, former government officials and security personnel.
But all of the moving around has hit the family hard. “Unfortunately, at the time of the Taliban takeover, my wife was pregnant, and it had a significant toll on her mental health – we lost our first baby during childbirth,” Hekmat tells AW.
Like many others in Afghanistan, he feels trapped:
“I could not leave the country despite working honestly in the previous government. I wasn't paid enough to have savings – otherwise, I would have been able to leave Afghanistan with my own money. None of the organisations helped me leave the country,” he adds.
Hekmat spends most of his time in-hiding - his brother goes out to buy the groceries so that he doesn’t show his face in public.
“At the moment, I am not sure how long I can survive like this…” he says. “I see a bleak future in front of me. If the Taliban find me, they can easily take their revenge because they control the country, and I have no way to seek justice.”
Hekmat begs that Afghanistan and its people are not forgotten. “If anyone reads this, [they] should know that the people who needed protection are left behind and are hunted down one by one by the Taliban,” he says.
“I am one of them, and I can only hope for a miracle to happen now.”
Interview by Afghan Witness