Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
December 14, 2018
Video footage that appears to show a young man being pushed and then dragged by the collar into a vehicle by President Ashraf Ghani’s presidential bodyguards has sparked online debate in Afghanistan.
The video, which was uploaded on social media and was reported by various news outlets, was purportedly taken on December 13 by an unknown individual outside a venue in the western city of Herat, where Ghani inaugurated a new trade route known as the Lapis Lazuli corridor.
The video appears to show Ghani walking down from the stage and then confronting the young man, identified as Raees Zazai, inside the crowded venue hall where hundreds were in attendance.
Zazai, who reportedly had a complaint letter in his hand when he attempted to approach the president, was escorted out of the venue.
Several edits of the same video have been uploaded on social media. One shows Zazai squatting on the ground, surrounded by what appear to be bodyguards. He is lifted up by the collar by one bodyguard and pushed by another before he is hauled into a military vehicle.
Zazai’s family has said he was detained and he is being held in detention.
The president has not commented on the video or the allegations.
The incident has provoked renewed criticism of Ghani and his bodyguards on social media.
Ghani’s government, which he has headed since 2014 and is often portrayed as weak and unpopular, has come under fire by the media and rights activists on several occasions in the past, including for the alleged mistreatment and beating of reporters, activists, and protesters.
“It is freedom of speech; everyone can criticize their president,” Facebook user Farid Ahmadi Marwi wrote on December 14. “These criticisms are constructive, and they should not be gagged like this.”
“Freedom of speech is just an illusion,” wrote Mujtaba Mohammadi, a Facebook user, on December 14. “In this country, when you tell the truth, you will be hit.”
Bilal Sarwary, a parliamentary candidate and journalist, wrote on Twitter that the “abuse of civilians should be reserved for tyrants and despots.”
Others supported the actions of the bodyguards.
“Hooligans should be punished,” Facebook user Najeeb Watandost wrote on December 14. “These people do not know what is discipline and courtesy.”
This isn’t the first time the president’s guards have come under criticism for their behavior.
In September 2016, footage appeared to show the president’s security detail threatening, beating, and cursing out a local journalist in the central province of Bamiyan, an incident that was condemned by human rights groups.
In May of that year, a fight broke out between the president’s bodyguards and two Afghan activists during a speech Ghani gave at the London-based Royal United Services Institute. The two activists interrupted Ghani’s address. One of them was escorted from the room by the bodyguards. The second activist was punched and dragged out of the room by another bodyguard.