Death sentence for Afghan journalist
24 Jan 2008

A young reporter has been found guilty of blasphemy, writes Harun Najafizada in Balkh
Sayed Parvez Kambakhsh

A primary court in the city of Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan has sentenced local journalist Sayed Parvez Kambakhsh to death.

Kambakhsh, 23, a reporter for Jahan-e Naw (New World) weekly and a student of journalism at Balkh University has been accused of blasphemy and misrepresenting the verses of the Quran.

On Tuesday afternoon, the primary court of Mazar-e Sharif convened a session behind closed doors and announced the verdict after a three-hour discussion.

The session, which was not attended by defending lawyers, journalists or human rights defenders, or even by Kambakhsh’s relatives, has been widely criticised for issuing such a strong sentence and ignoring the Afghan constitution.

Kambakhsh, who was arrested three months ago by the National Security Department (the intelligence service) and kept in prison, had downloaded an article from an Iranian website and distributed it to his friends.

The 12-page article is said to have contained criticisms of the Prophet Mohammed and the Quran. It also addressed the violation of women’s rights in Islam.

Deeply conservative Afghan clerics, most of whom have never used a computer or the Internet, believe Kambakhsh himself wrote the article and therefore found him guilty of blasphemy.

Because there is no clear punishment for downloading “un-Islamic” articles from the Internet, the primary court of appeal asked clerics to comment. The conservative clerics, who had not investigated the case, demanded the death penalty.

The case, which is rare in its kind, has shocked most Afghan journalists, university students and supporters of freedom of speech in the country.

Yaqub Ebrahimi, journalist and brother of Kambakhsh said: “The verdict is unfair, unjust, unconstitutional and anti-Islamic, because the session took place behind closed doors. There was no defending lawyer and we were not even informed of the session.”

A considerable number of national and international organisations fighting for freedom of speech have reacted to the sentence. South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA), Afghanistan Chapter, has asked Afghan president Hamed Karzai to intervene personally in the case and spare the life of the young journalist. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has also called the verdict unfair due to lack of a defence lawyer.

In the meantime, Afghan Minister of Culture and Information Karim Khuram has said he was sorry to hear that the court has issued a death sentence, but added: “What he did was outside his professional activities and nothing related to journalism. So I have to respect the court.”

Yaqub Ebrahimi, who works for IWPR (Institute for War and Peace Reporting), told me that his brother was being punished for articles and reports that he [Yaqub Ebrahim] had written about local warlords and violators of human rights.

Afghan journalists in Mazar-e Sharif say that the court’s decision is a clear sign of pressure on critical writers in northern Afghanistan, which has been seen as “liberal” in the six years since the Taliban were ousted from power.

Earlier, Hafiz Khaliqyar, the Attorney General of Balkh Province, threatened all of the journalists at a press conference in Mazar-e Sharif, saying: “Those of you who ask too many questions about the Parvez Kambakhsh case and those of you who support him, I have the order from the general attorney in Kabul to arrest you too.”

Now that the primary court has issued its sentence, this young journalist has two other chances to appeal.

The second hearing is scheduled to take place in Mazar-e Sharif too. But relatives of the convict have already appealed to the international community and President Karzai to move the case to the more liberal atmosphere of Kabul.

Some modern Afghan clerics say that Islamic law will pardon someone who apologises for writing an article critical of Islam (Kambakhsh had only downloaded, printed and distributed the piece) . But it seems that at this stage nobody listens to these words.

As yet, there has been no response from the president, who is believed to be a supporter of free media and human rights, and who could sign a letter for the release of this young Afghan journalist.

The eyes of every human rights supporter are on Hamed Karzai. His decision will tell the world much about the reality on the ground in Afghanistan.

Padraig Reidy

7 responses to “Death sentence for Afghan journalist”

  1. […] 2009, New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch called on the Afghan president to pardon Parwez Kambakhsh, a student and part-time journalist for the daily Jahan-e-Naw, New World, at Balkh […]

  2. […] the young Afghan journalist who appealed a death sentence for blasphemy handed down last year by a Mazar-i-Sharif court has had a sentence of 20 years imposed by Afghanistan’s supreme court in Kabul. The sentence […]

  3. Noor says:

    To protect Islam we have got alot of Islamic countries in the world, you guys please try to protect your own country first.

    All the afghan inteligence force are busy doing these stuff, we never heard that they have solved a case of murder or somthing, Shame on your Government Mr.Karzai

  4. Noor says:

    As we all know that Mr. Hamid Karzai and his weak cabinat have not been successful from the time they started ruling the country, the thing that they can count on is the freedom of speech, they have been claiming this their biggest victory eventhough the afghan people have never seen the government supporting the free Media in Afghanistan, the Afghan journalist Ajmal Naqshbandi was killed by Taliban because of the weakness of our own government and now a young boy who has and accurate mind have been sentenced to death even without giving him a chance to have a defence lawyer, Its a pity to our government who always demand and claim about having Democracy, My humble request to the human rights commision in Afghanistan to kindly prevent another death, death of the people which are needed now in Afghanistan.

  5. PPP says:

    A better thing to do for the Afghans is to encourage their countrymen to exercise freedom of expression may be against other religions and make it a point of discussion rather than their own religion.

  6. carrie says:

    This madness has to stop. Islam is evil.

  7. Raveesh Nagpal says:

    Damn the Afghans! Why don’t they just kill everyone in their country!