Afghanistan jails SA man for 16 years over heroin

An Afghan court sentenced a South African man to 16 years in prison for trying to board a plane at Kabul’s international airport with a bag full of heroin, the government’s anti-narcotics department said on Tuesday.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, the raw ingredient of heroin, with more land under drug cultivation than Colombia, Bolivia and Peru combined, the United Nations says.

Taliban militants partly fund their insurgency against Western troops and the Afghan government by taxing opium farmers and traffickers.

While many low-level traffickers have been convicted on drug smuggling charges, many more are able to slip drugs across Afghanistan’s porous borders to reach Western markets. Smuggling drugs through the airport is far less common.

”A South African man was arrested when he tried to board a plane with nearly 6kg of heroin inside two bottles of bodybuilding powder,” Sareer Barmak, communications director for the government’s Criminal Justice Task Force (CJTF), told Reuters.

”He has now been sentenced to 16 years in prison,” he said.

The man was arrested last year but was only sentenced this week. He denied the charges, saying he had not known what was inside the bottles and was carrying them for a friend in South Africa who has since been arrested there, said Barmak.

”This kind of conviction will have a definite effect on other foreigners who are working in Afghanistan … that there is no way for them to transport drugs outside Afghanistan,” he said.

Western nations with troops fighting the Taliban have criticised the Afghan government and judiciary for failing to arrest and prosecute the drug barons who control the trade.

But some higher level drug traffickers have also been arrested in the past few weeks, said Barmak, including a police commander for the main highway north of the capital and an intelligence official.

”These are examples that we are serious in stopping drug trafficking in Afghanistan,” said Barmak.

But arresting people was not the only solution, he said. More needed to be done to stop drug cultivation. – Reuters

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