Formerly a Mujahideen leader fighting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Zardad ran a Sarobi checkpoint, blocking the major route heading from Jalalabad into Kabul, that commonly robbed, abducted and killed travellers between December 31, 1991 to September 30, 1996.
A widely publicised story about Zardad was the allegation that he used one of his militia, Abdullah Shah, to bite prisoners and even to eat a victim's testicles. Large, hairy and uneducated, Shah was described as a "human dog" and kept in a cave with a chain around his neck by Zardad, and brought out only to intimidate captured travellers. Shah was executed by the Afghan government in 2002.
In 1998, Zardad fled to Britain using a false passport to avoid persecution under the ruling Taliban, and claimed asylum. He was the subject of an exposé on a BBC television programme, Newsnight, first broadcast on 26 July, 2000 . His presence in London had been discussed with a BBC reporter by the Taliban Foreign Minister in Kabul, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, during an interview in 1999 about why the Taliban were sheltering Osama Bin Laden.
The minister had retorted that the British were sheltering "the criminal Commander Zardad". The BBC eventually tracked Zardad down after nearly a year, and found him living in Mitcham, Surrey. He was interviewed there by reporter John Simpson for the programme, in which Zardad claimed to have been based in Kabul and had only visited Sarobi as an adviser to the local commanders. After the BBC report, Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) launched an international campaign http://www.rawa.org/zardad-3.htm to urge the UK government to prosecute Zardad. They issued a statement in many languages and circulated it through the Internet. Hundreds of letters were sent to the British police through this campaign.
RAWA also issued “Some reports of crimes committed by Zardad in Afghanistan” which were based for his prosecution.
He was briefly arrested on 10 May 2003 by officers of the Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch and bailed only to be re-arrested on 14 July, 2003, by which time he was living in Streatham had been running a pizza parlour in Bexleyheath for three years.
The day following his arrest he was charged with 16 offenses relating to his time as a military commander during the Afghan civil war in the early 1990s. There were nine counts under section 134 (1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 that, as a military commander in the Sarobi region of Afghanistan, he tortured or gave orders to carry out torture as part of his official duties; five counts under section 1(1) of the Taking of Hostages Act 1982 that he detained hostages and held them to ransom, and two charges under section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977 that he plotted with others to carry out or order torture and that he plotted with others to take a hostage.
Although the alleged crimes had taken place outside of the United Kingdom, the Law Lords had ruled in March 1999 when examining the case against General Augusto Pinochet that torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction and thus could be prosecuted within the United Kingdom; and indeed the UK was obliged under the United Nations Torture Convention to either extradite or prosecute someone facing plausible accusations of torture. Hostage taking is similarly a crime of universal jurisdiction under the International Convention against the Taking of Hostages. ]. No request having been received from the Afghan Government, the UK therefore prosecuted Zardad.
The trial took place in October 2004, with Zardad pleading not guilty to all of the charges.
During the trial, the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, prosecuting said that he believed that this was the first time in which someone had been prosecuted in one jurisdiction for alleged offences committed in the other. One witness claimed he was stopped at a checkpoint by men with covered faces and sunglasses tied to a nearby metal chair where he was interrogated and tortured. Another, a lorry driver, claimed to have been kept prisoner for six months until a ransom was paid by the driver's brother.
Zardad also denied having previously admitted to the British police that he attended a 15-day training camp where he had learnt to use AK47s, rocket launchers and other weapons No witnesses gave evidence about the "human dog" allegation in this first trial.
The jury was unable to come to a verdict.
Evidence was taken from 16 witnesses via a video link to the British Embassy in Kabul. As in the first trial, a court order prevented the identities of many of the victims and witnesses from being revealed for fear of retaliation.
The trial included evidence of:.
A video, Zardad's Dog, of parts of the 2002 Kabul trial of Abdullah Shah, was withdrawn from the October 2004 Turner Prize exhibition at the Tate Britain art gallery just before the first trial started, to avoid potential contempt of court prosecution. It was finally put on public display on 3 October 2005.