Blinking at television lights and taken aback by unusual surroundings, the Afghans entered the hall gingerly. Only 10 hours earlier they had been in Pakistan, and before that in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.
For several, still wearing their scruffy turbans, pajama suits and sandals, this was the first time they had ever left the mountains of their homeland, let alone visited a Western country.
The voluted renaissance amphitheater of the Sorbonne University, the huge pastoral mural crowned by the words ''pacem summa tenent'' (the best keep the peace), and the jammed wooden benches were a far cry from the shattered villages and government torture chambers of Afghanistan.
The Afghans, six men and one woman, had been flown in specially to provide testimony at the second session of the ''permanent people's tribunal'' on atrocities and other forms of repression committed by the Soviet and communist government forces in Afghanistan. These ranged from the burning alive by Soviet troops of 105 villagers to the torture of a young female student at the hands of the KHAD, an acronym for Khidamati Aetilaati Daulati, the KGB and East German-trained Afghan state security police.
Basing itself on international law, the tribunal is sponsored by human rights activists in Italy and France and modeled after the Bertrand Russell hearings on Vietnam and Latin America of a decade ago. It announced its verdict by condemning the Soviet Union for not respecting war regulations such as those laid down by the Geneva Convention and for violating fundamental human rights.
For three days, the tribunal, which bears no legal authority but appeals to international opinion, considered oral, written, and audiovisual evidence proffered by witnesses who included Afghan resistance commanders, European relief officials, Western journalists, and 59 French doctors who had worked inside Afghanistan itself. Both the Soviet Union and the Kabul government were invited to participate, but at a news conference held by the Afghan Embassy in Paris, a spokesman dismissed the tribunal as a ''counterrevolutionary'' propaganda exercise.
The Kabul regime denies that such activities are being carried out. Its Paris embassy even published its own report this month on alleged atrocities against the Afghan people, titled ''Crimes and confessions of counter-revolutionaries.''
To carry out its own on-the-spot investigation of some of the numerous reports concerning Soviet atrocities, the tribunal dispatched a three-person commission to Afghanistan in late November. ''We thought that as a commision it was essential to prove at least one refugee story to make a point. . . to show that what the refugees are saying does correspond to what is actually happening, '' said Michael Barry, an American Persian studies specialist and writer. What they discovered was strong evidence that 105 Afghans - including 11 children - were massacred at Padlahwab-e-Shana in Logar province.
The number of political prisoners in the hands of the communists is unknown, but estimates range from 10,000 to 50,000. ''Numerous cases have emerged of people being arrested and held for several months while they are interrogated and tortured and then released without any explanation,'' said Bernard Dupaigne, curator of the Paris Musee de l'Homme and Afghan specialist who testified at the tribunal.
Late last summer, the International Committee of the Red Cross was granted permission for 427 visits to 338 prisoners at Pul-i Charki jail in Kabul but was then forced to leave. Amnesty International has yet to gain access to inmates jailed since the 1979 Soviet invasion.
Without doubt, the most controversial issue examined by the tribunal was the alleged use of chemical and biological warfare (CBW). Pointing out the difficulties involved in gathering firm evidence, the tribunal announced that it could not permit itself to pronounce a scientifically supported judgment. Nevertheless, it strongly criticized the United Nations for restricting its recent CBW investigation to indirect proof and for failing to physically enter Afghanistan.
''It is evident that a proper scientific examination of these allegations must involve a direct investigation as well as controlled analytical and clinical observation far beyond our own means but which are within the means of the United Nations,'' said Laurent Schwartz, a French mathematics professor and tribunal member. ''One can only deduce that the international community does not want to probe to the depth of this problem.''
At the same time the tribunal, alluding to the latest State Department CBW report, chastised the US for being overhasty in its conclusions by relying on insufficient evidence. Some critics felt, however, that the verdict had given the Soviets further justification to continue such practices.
''From the medical point of view and from the cases of my own observation. . . there is no question that it is a chemical agent that has caused those lesions of victims we have treated,'' said Dr. Azziz Zikria, an Afghan professor at Columbia School of Medicine in New York. He was referring to Afghans in Pakistan thought to be CBW victims.
But the tribunal also condemned the Soviets for other and more current forms of repression for which evidence was not lacking. These included the deliberate bombardment of civilian populations, the destruction of crops, the use of anti-personnel mines, mass executions, and the calculated pressuring of roughly one-fifth of Afghanistan's estimated 15 million inhabitants into exile.