Statement on the transfer of sensitive Afghan prisoners to Qatar

  • Joint Statement
  • Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs
  • Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC, Minister for Defence
11 September 2020

Afghan Army deserter Hekmatullah, who murdered three off-duty Australian soldiers in 2012 in a cold-blooded crime of betrayal, is being transferred to a detention facility in Qatar by the Government of Afghanistan.

We understand Hekmatullah will be held in detention in Qatar with five other highly sensitive prisoners. These six prisoners were convicted of killing Coalition soldiers, or civilian humanitarian workers, in a series of insider attacks. The Government of Qatar has undertaken to the Government of Afghanistan and to the United States to keep these detainees confined and isolated.

Australia has steadfastly maintained that Hekmatullah must not be released. We have communicated our position repeatedly and consistently and at the highest level to the Government of Afghanistan, which is solely responsible for his custody, and to the United States.

In February 2020, the United States and the Taliban agreed to a number of steps, including the release of Afghan Government and Taliban prisoners, as goodwill pre-conditions that oblige the Taliban to enter into intra-Afghan negotiations with the Government of Afghanistan.

Australia has worked hard with the United States, the Government of Afghanistan and other nations, including the British and French Governments, since February 2020 to keep Hekmatullah in detention, and to keep these six sensitive prisoners separate from the wider goodwill agreement. That agreement has already seen the release of some 5,000 Taliban-associated prisoners and detainees.

Australia is not the only country that objects to the release of this most dangerous group of prisoners. Other countries, including France, have joined calls for dangerous criminals not to be released.

Australia is not a party to the intra-Afghan negotiations, nor the US-Taliban discussions. We are not standing in the way of peace talks. We fully support an Afghan-owned and led peace process, and all genuine steps taken towards a just, durable, and resilient peace arrangement. We recognise that there is no military solution to violence in Afghanistan. A negotiated political peace settlement is the only way to find a genuine conclusion to conflict, external militant interference, and terrorism. Australia appreciates that the Afghan Government, in making the decision to move the prisoners to Qatar, is doing its best to recognise and respect the concerns of the countries that want to see justice served.

The transfer of these last six sensitive prisoners, including Hekmatullah, from Afghanistan to a detention facility in Qatar, is a measure decided by the Government of Afghanistan and the United States as a means of facilitating the start of the Intra-Afghan Negotiations, scheduled to begin on 12 September, while keeping the prisoners detained.

The Australian Government’s long-standing position is that Hekmatullah should serve a full custodial sentence for the crimes for which he was convicted by an Afghan court, and that he should not be released as part of a prisoner amnesty. Australia has communicated this position clearly to the Afghan Government and has not provided any authorisation for Hekmatullah’s release as part of any arrangement with the Afghan Government. We will continue to advocate our position robustly, wherever he is being held. Justice and peace are not incompatible. Both have a place in peace arrangements.

A just outcome for the prisoner Hekmatullah remains a sensitive issue. The Australian Government once more extends its condolences to the families, loved ones and friends of our three fallen Australian soldiers.

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