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Afghan Officials Send High-Profile Sexual Assault Case to Court

FILE - Rashid Dostum shakes hands with local residents in Shebergan, Afghanistan,, Dec. 27 , 2001.
FILE - Rashid Dostum shakes hands with local residents in Shebergan, Afghanistan,, Dec. 27 , 2001.

Authorities in Afghanistan confirmed Wednesday that an alleged torture and sexual assault case against the country’s first-vice president, Abdul Rashid Dostum, has been sent to court for further action.

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office in Kabul told VOA the charges were investigated with "complete impartiality" before the case was submitted to the court a month ago.

The disclosure came a day after the United States described as “extremely serious” charges against Dostum and stressed the need for a “fair” investigation as well as “follow-up legal actions” to uphold rule of law and combat impunity in the war-hit nation.

Dostum, a 63-year-old ethnic Uzbek warlord, and some of his militia guards, have been under investigation for months over allegations of torturing and sexually assaulting an elderly political rival named Ahmad Ishchi.

But in late May, Dostum flew to Turkey, saying he needed health care and remains there. His departure has prompted allegations he struck a secret deal with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to escape prosecution.

Hugo Llorens, the acting U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, told reporters Tuesday the charges against Dostum warrant close review by Afghan judicial authorities.

Former governor accuses

“Afghans have the right to demand that human rights be respected, the rule of law be upheld and those who violate the public trust are held accountable regardless of position, or influence,” Llorens said to a group of journalists.

Late last year, Ishchi, a former provincial governor, said in a nationally televised interview that Dostum's militiamen detained, tortured and sexually assaulted him. He said Dostum had ordered the detention and abuse.

Dostum rejected the accusations as politically motivated, and initially refused to cooperate with investigators. But the incident outraged critics at home and abroad, putting President Ghani under severe pressure to open an investigation into the incident to bring Dostum to justice.

The U.S. envoy said that, like other Afghan citizens, the first vice president deserves due process and the presumption of innocence. He emphasized that the legal process underscores the Afghan state’s efforts to uphold the rule of law and combat impunity, and to send a signal to the world that no one is above the law in Afghanistan.

“Any efforts to politicize the case, or use it to sow ethnic tensions is harmful to the rule of law, peace and stability in Afghanistan. I believe the Afghan authorities must pursue justice and not to succumb to any political pressures,” said Llorens.

Three-party alliance

The American diplomat apparently was referring to a new alliance of three mainstream Afghan ethnic minority political parties. The political group is made up of Jamiat-e-Islami, Hizb-e-Wahdat-e-Islami and Dostum’s Junbish-e-Milli party.

The alliance was announced in Turkey earlier this month, and it presented a list of demands for reforms by President Ghani.

Some of Dostum's critics say he is behind the political move to pressure the beleaguered Afghan unity government to seek a favorable outcome from the investigation into the Ishchi allegations.

Leaders of the other two parties in the alliance also hold senior positions in the government.

Hours before the U.S. ambassador spoke, Ghani told reporters in Kabul that his government is “totally neutral" in the judicial proceedings involving Dostum.

He said the first vice president left the country with the permission of the Afghan attorney general because the laws do not bar someone suspected of wrongdoing from seeking medical treatment abroad “if he is ill and he [Dostum] had a serious illness.”