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Study hour
2.09.2014  |  Afghan Eye
Kicking the habit
18.07.2014  |  Society
Two partridge owners prepare to let their birds fight in Ghazni last month (Photos: Rahmat Alizada)
Gladiator... partridges
14.05.2014  |  Society
Capital of culture vibe
23.04.2013  |  Gallery
Fancy footwork (Photos: Alizada).
Ghazni in the spotlight
15.04.2013  |  Society
Who has the whip hand?
17.09.2012  |  Society
Ghazni Governor Musa Khan Akbar Zada places the traditional mantle of reconciliation around the shoulders of a supposedly surrendered Taliban fighter. (Photos: Rahmat Alizada)
Taliban for a day?
18.05.2012  |  Politics
Classes continue but the university has no permanent premises. Here students sit exams in rented office space adjoining a noisy food market in Ghazni city. (Photos: Alizada)
The drifting university
19.03.2012  |  Business
Can the government protect these women from domestic violence? (Photo: Alizada)
Political or personal?
14.12.2011  |  Society
Remnants of the rocket that tore into the Rezai family's home, fired in a government concession to local Taliban. (Photos: Alizada)
Tragedy of a secret deal
15.11.2011  |  Politics
While Ghazni hums with multi-million-dollar projects to restore the old buildings to befit its place as the 2013 Capital of Islamic Culture, the city’s main prison is steadily crumbling amid stirrings of revolt.
Located seven kilometres outside the city, the dilapidated half-century-old mud-walled facility suffers from chronic overcrowding, primitive hygiene and general living conditions. And among the more than 300 mainly men being held here, either awaiting trial or serving sentences, tensions are steadily building.
“You can see the chaos growing by the day, with the outbreak of fights among the inmates,” said Kamran, a 25-year-old Ghazni resident who is serving a 16-year sentence for murder. “Thirty of us live in a small room with a capacity of 10, we fight over sleeping places and food, we don’t have a standard shower place and we bathe in the prison yard,” he continued. “Ghazni has fearsome winters, so most of the prisoners go without a shower for a month or two.”
They get a rice lunch and soup for supper, but no one gets fat here. And night time is uncomfortable: the inmates sleep on bedding mats on thinly carpeted or bare mud floors and are visibly crammed into the premises.
“We live like animals, herded into small rooms,” said Mohammad Nabi, 43, who has been here for three months after he was convicted of drug smuggling.  
A royal relic
Built by the late King Zaher Shah, the mud-brick prison was seriously damaged during the civil war in the early 1990s. It is still too damaged to call secure, worries prison commander Lt. Col. Nader Ali Bakawli.
“The prison building was constructed 50 years ago and many parts of it have been destroyed – we can expect an escape or jailbreak at any  moment,” he told Afghanistan Today.
About half of the inmates are awaiting trial and the rest serving sentences usually for serious crimes like murder, robbery, or participating in the insurgency. While the walls are weakened by age and battle scars, the main deterrent to potential escapees is a force of 70 heavily armed police officers. 
The government has repeatedly assured that a new prison will be built, but words have not yet translated into actions, said Bakawli, who confirmed prisoners’ claims of serious overcrowding throughout the facility.
“We have 300 inmates who live in 12 rooms, but we need 40 rooms to accommodate them,” he said.
Central role in Ghazni
There is just one central jail in Ghazni Province, but the National Directorate of Security (NDS) domestic intelligence service and provincial security forces run their own temporary detention centres. Priority inmates are sent to Pul-e Charkhi jail in Kabul, and the remaining prisoners are kept at the provincial jail. 
But despite its central role, the prison has no washing machines for prisoners’ clothes, and no cooling equipment for the sweltering summer months. On a recent visit, prisoners were seen constantly fanning themselves for relief from the heat, sitting on damp mud-built flooring that crawled with flies.
A television with limited viewing hours is an incongruous touch of comfort in the pre-trial detention area of the larger men’s section. Eight women currently housed in a separate two-roomed wing also have a television and there are no bars on their windows . 
Khanzada, a member of the Provincial Council, says he and his fellow councillors are aware of the dire state of the prison and also fear that the jail could be the site of an epidemic or major unrest.
“Provincial council members have visited the prison many times and the inmates’ conditions are very serious. If the government doesn’t pay immediate and urgent attention to it, chances are that many lives will be wasted,” he said.
In addition to the most apparent problems, Khanzada said cramped conditions also meant that younger inmates are vulnerable to sexual harassment, with a number of rape cases reported last year.
Year of culture may yield a new jail
But there is hope for the construction a new jail, thanks to the cultural events scheduled for 2013. Ghazni was awarded the title of Islamic Capital of Culture in 2013 by ISESCO (Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), and the provincial government says it has invested 50 million US dollars in restoring old buildings in the city. According to Ghazni Governor Musakhan Akbarzada, each ministry in Kabul must fund and implement a major project in the city.
“The Ministry of Justice will possibly build a new jail for Ghaznl, but it is still not clear how the ministry will fund the project,” said Akbarzada, adding that the project would cost five million dollars.
The governor also agrees that conditions have reached a critical point of deterioration at the current jail. 
“Prison is a place to learn a lesson, not a place to be tormented. Our prisoners are living like animals and this can be regarded as torment.”  he said. “The situation in the prison really is bad, many of the prisoners have caught respiratory sicknesses and we are trying to build some temporary rooms as soon as possible in order to solve their immediate problems.” 
Dr Mohammad Mukhtar Ebrahimkhail, the head of the prison clinic, said infections were rising in the jail due to overcrowding: “In one room there are 26 people living in 28 cubic meters of space and they have respiratory problems, flu and other diseases.”
Corruption claims
But flu is not the only problem spreading. Inmates also claim that even when they have completed their sentences, this is no guarantee that they will be released.
“I should have been released by now but I still am in the prison,” says Layla, a 38-year-old woman among the eight females who are kept in a separate section of the facility. Sentenced to five a half years years for “moral corruption” after being caught having extramarital sexual relations, Layla claims that she has already been held for three months longer than her sentence because prosecutors want a bribe to set her free.
The chief justice at the Ghazni Court of Appeal, Abdul Ghafar Sayem, said the hold-up in releasing some people was an administrative failure: “We categorically deny that in some cases the delay was caused in order to obtain a bribe. Some times a case does take time because of the need to search for evidence and the truth.”
Prisoners who were targeted by judges and attorneys for bribes should inform the Ghazni High Court, Sayem said, without elaborating how a detainee being held behind bars should do that.
Unlikely solutions
Amid the poor conditions, some unexpected efforts are being made to improve the lives of prisoners.
“We implemented a tailoring project for the 8 women currently being held in the prison,” said Shukria Wali, the director of the women’s affairs department in the provincial government. “This way, they can financially support their families when they are released.”
And with no date set for construction of a new jail, the prison commander Bakawli has employed a pragmatic approach to the overcrowding.  
“I send some of the prisoner home through the night, who are reliable and trustworthy,” he said. “They return back to the prison in the early morning.” 
Inmates of the pre-trial detention cells in Ghazni prison have the luxury of a television set, but otherwise it's the same fight for floor space. (Photos: Alizada)
Ghazni's jailhouse blues
8.09.2011  |  Society
Ghazni City still has a working court system, but officials concede that the districts have largely become the domain of Taliban judges. (Photo: Alizada)
Reign of the desert court
11.08.2011  |  Politics