Troops sentenced for Afghan abuse
Two British soldiers have been sentenced for abusing civilians, including children, during the war in Afghanistan.
A 22-year-old former serviceman was fined £1,000 for two charges of conduct to the prejudice of good order and service discipline while a 23-year-old serving officer was reduced to the ranks for a racially aggravated offence.
Both men, neither of whom can be named for legal reasons, plead guilty to the abuse at a court martial in Sennelager, Germany.
The former private, referred to as Soldier X to avoid reprisals against him and his family, admitted pulling the hand of an Afghan child towards his crotch while saying 'Touch my special place'. Dressed in a silver suit and white shirt, he also pleaded guilty to insulting an Afghan boy by swearing at him. But he was cleared of disgraceful conduct of an indecent kind and of allegedly forcing an Afghan girl to touch him on a separate occasion.
The officer, Soldier Y, admitted posing in a photograph with an Afghan man who was carrying a racist sign which read "Silly Paki". Their patrol commander, Soldier Z, was cleared of failing in his duty to deal with the offences.
Judge Advocate Alan Large deliberated together with a panel of three serving officers for over an hour. Sentencing both men, he said the offences had taken place during a "demanding operational situation with risk of attack from insurgents and a persistent IED threat".
"The boundary between what is acceptable and what trespasses into unacceptable behaviour is sometimes unclear and difficult to distinguish," he said. "Having said that, all soldiers, particularly those serving in Afghanistan, are fully trained and fully prepared for all aspects of your duties. We have heard that you were briefed on the sensibilities of the country and aware of the need to respect local customs and cultures and to avoid any behaviour that could be interpreted as having sexual or racist connotations which could cause understandable offence to people in that country."
At the time of the offences, both soldiers were attached to 1 Yorks in Lashkar Gah West, although neither were members of that regiment.
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said: "I wish to express my alarm and disgust at the sentences given to two British soldiers who admitted abusing and mistreating innocent Afghans. To be fined £1000 and demoted sends the message out that Afghan lives are worth less than Westerners'. Not only were children abused with sexual references, there was a case of racism which has been admitted yet the tribunal gave a minor punishment. This is just not acceptable."
Jonathan Lynch, instructing solicitor for Soldier X, said in a statement that the former soldier's offence had not been of a sexual nature. He said: "For clarity and the avoidance of doubt we repeat that Soldier X was not accused of sexually assaulting Afghan children or indecent conduct towards a child."