Blasphemy in Afghanistan

Afghan sentenced to death for blasphemy

23rd January

Blasphemy as Intimidation...

Afghan student sentenced to death for supposed blasphemy

A court in Afghanistan has sentenced a local journalist to death for blasphemy.

Perwiz Kambakhsh, 23, was arrested on October 27 for allegedly distributing material he downloaded from the Internet and deemed offensive to Islam among fellow students at northern Balkh University.

Based on the crimes Perwiz Kambakhsh committed, the primary court yesterday sentenced him to the most serious punishment which is the death penalty, Balkh province deputy attorney general Hafizullah Khaliqyar told AFP.

The reporter's brother and fellow journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi told AFP that Khaliqyar had threatened to arrest journalists who 'support' Kambakhsh at a media briefing where officials defended the arrest of the reporter.

Ignoring the threats, journalists were gathering outside Ibrahimi's house to organise a 'possible' protest.

Ibrahimi said the trial was held behind closed doors and without any lawyer defending him.

Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders appealed to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to intervene. We are deeply shocked by this trial, carried out in haste and without any concern for the law or for free expression, which is protected by the constitution, Reporters Without Borders said: Kambakhsh did not do anything to justify his being detained or being given this sentence. We appeal to President Hamid Karzai to intervene before it is too late.

The group said Kambakhsh was supposedly arrested because of a controversial article commenting on verses in the Koran about women, although it has now been established that he was not the article's author. It seems more likely that the charges were a pretext meant to intimidate and stop his brother from reporting about the plight of women.

Kambakhsh has the right to appeal to higher courts.


26th January

Update: Blasphemy Against Human Rights...

UN not impressed by Afghan death sentence for blasphemy

The United Nations has called on Afghanistan to review the case of an Afghan journalist sentenced to death this week for blasphemy, saying it had doubts about whether the trial had been fair.

An Afghan court sentenced Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, 23, a reporter with the Jahan-e Now daily paper, to death on Tuesday after he was found guilty of blasphemy.

The pressures for punishment, warnings to journalists, as well as the holding of this case in closed session without Mr Kambakhsh having legal representation point to possible misuse of the judicial process, Bo Asplund, chief UN representative in Afghanistan, said in a statement.

Afghanistan’s constitution commits it to upholding Islamic and universal human rights values, which are clearly compatible. We urge a proper and complete review of this case as it goes through the appeals process.


31st January

Update: Justice Dying in Afghanistan...

Afghan death sentence for blasphemy supported in upper house

The upper house of the Afghan parliament has supported a death sentence issued against a journalist for blasphemy in northern Afghanistan.

Pervez Kambaksh was convicted last week of downloading and distributing an article insulting Islam. He has denied the charge.

The UN has criticised the sentence and said the journalist did not have legal representation during the case.

The Afghan government has said that the sentence was not final. A government spokesman said recently that the case would be handled "very carefully".

Now the Afghan Senate has issued a statement on the case - it was not voted on but was signed by its leader, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, an ally of President Hamid Karzai. It said the upper house approved the death sentence conferred on Mr Kambaksh by a city court in Mazar-e-Sharif. It also strongly criticised what it called those institutions and foreign sources which, it said, had tried to pressurise the country's government and judiciary as they pursued people like Kambaksh.


1st February

Update: Save Pervez!...

Petition to save the journalist facing death for blasphemy

Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai, has been inundated with appeals to save the life of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the student journalist sentenced to death after being accused of downloading an internet report on women's rights.

While international protests mounted over the affair, with the British Government saying it had already raised its concerns, hundreds of people marched through the capital, Kabul, demanding Kambaksh's release.

A petition launched yesterday by The Independent to secure justice for Kambaksh had attracted more than 13,500 signatories by last night, and a number of support groups have been set up on the social networking site Facebook with more than 400 joining one group alone.

Kambaksh was arrested, tried and convicted by a religious court, in what his friends and family say was a secret session without being allowed legal representation.

The United Nations, human rights groups, journalists' organisations and diplomats urged Karzai's government to quash the death sentence and release him. Instead the Afghan senate passed a motion confirming the death sentence. The MP who proposed the ruling condemning Kambaksh was Sibghatullah Mojadedi, a key ally of Karzai.

In London David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, told The Independent that Britain had raised Kambaksh's case as a member of the European Union and with the United Nations, as well as strongly supporting a call by the UN special representative to Afghanistan for a review of the verdict: We are opposed to the death penalty in all cases and believe that freedom of expression is one of the cornerstones of a democratic society.

Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: It is clear that this case has nothing to do with blasphemy and everything to do with prejudice. Afghanistan is sliding back towards the bad old days where women were subjugated and journalists persecuted. We have invested far too much in Afghanistan to allow freedom and democracy to falter. If this sentence is carried through, it will raise major questions about the country's future.

William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: We call upon President Karzai and his government to urgently reconsider the decision to sentence Pervez Kambaksh to death. Mr Kambaksh was tried without being allowed any legal representation. Moving towards the rule of law is a vital part of peace-building in Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan cannot feel secure unless protected by a body of law and a functioning judicial system.

The Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael, chairman of the all-party group for the abolition of the death penalty, has put down an early day motion urging the British Government to intercede to save Kambaksh's life. In a Commons plea to Harriet Harman, the Leader of the House, he said: I draw the Leader of the House's attention particularly to the front page of The Independent which highlights the case of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh... Surely, given our current involvement in that country... we will not just sit back and allow this monstrous act to take place without doing anything about it?

Ms Harman replied: The Government are determined to stand up for human rights, including freedom of speech, in all countries, and are of course concerned about the matter.

From the Khaleej Times see full article

A group of Afghanistan's Islamic clerics welcomed a court's decision to sentence a reporter accused of blasphemy to death.

We welcome the court's decision, Asadullah Sajid, one of the top leaders of an Islamic council of religious clerics in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

The statement was made after dozens of members of the conservative council met in Jalalabad, the capital town of Nangarhar near the Pakistani border. At least two other such groups have demanded the reporter be executed.

Sajid, who was reading a statement issued by the clerics after their meeting, said, we strongly demand the international community avoid interfering in Afghanistan courts' decisions.

Sign the petition to Save Pervez!


2nd February

Update: Technical Mistake...

Afghanistan senate withdraws support for death sentence

The upper house of parliament in Afghanistan has withdrawn its support for a death sentence issued against a journalist convicted of blasphemy.

Legal experts said that the senate's support for the sentence was unconstitutional.

Its secretary, Aminuddin Muzafari, told journalists its statement had been a "technical mistake". He asked the media to make it clear that the senate did respect the legal rights of Mr Kambakhsh, including the right to a defence lawyer.

But it also said it approved the judiciary's prosecution of cases involving what it called the distribution of anti-Islamic articles.

As the statement of support was withdrawn, about 200 Afghans demonstrated in Kabul against the sentencing of Kambakhsh.

Kambaksh is appealing to higher courts against the death sentence.

His family say his trial was unfair because, among other things, he was not given a defence counsel.

The earlier senate statement supporting the death sentence was signed by its leader, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, an ally of President Hamid Karzai. The president would have to approve the death sentence for it to be carried out.


6th February

Update: Under Pressure...

Hints that Pervez Kambaksh will not be executed for blasphemy

The condemned student journalist Sayed Pervez Kambaksh will not face execution, a senior government official in Afghanistan indicated yesterday.

A ministerial aide, Najib Manalai, insisted: I am not worried for his life. I'm sure Afghanistan's justice system will find the best way to avoid this sentence.

It was the clearest indication yet that the 23-year-old will have his death penalty revoked amid mounting international pressure on the Afghan authorities.

Kambaksh was condemned to die by an Islamic court for insulting Islam. He was found guilty under sharia law after he distributed articles from the internet on women's rights at Balkh university in northern Afghanistan, an act he claims was aimed at provoking debate. His family say he was not allowed a defence lawyer and the trial was in secret.

The verdict, briefly endorsed by the Afghan senate before it retracted its opinion, caused international protests. More than 63,000 people have signed an Independent petition urging the Foreign Office to put all possible pressure on the Afghan government to prevent the execution. The United Nations' senior human rights advocate, Louise Arbour, has written to the President and his top officials. President Hamid Karzai's staff said he had been inundated by appeals from pressure groups across the globe to pardon the student journalist.

The President is concerned about the case and is watching the situation very closely , his spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, said. But he added: There is a judicial process ongoing.

Manalai is the senior adviser in Afghanistan's Culture Ministry, which is in charge of arbitrating free speech disputes in the media. He condemned the student writer but maintained it was very unlikely he would face the gallows.

The President can pardon death-row prisoners if their sentence is upheld by the Supreme Court. But privately, government sources have hinted that President Karzai would prefer to see the verdict overruled by an appeal court, before it reaches his office.

See full article from IWPR

As columns of people marched through the streets of Kabul holding portraits of journalist Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, it was strange for me to see his image appear so many times, held by so many hands. Parwez is my brother.

It was just a little over a week since a first-level court in the northern Afghan province of Balkh had passed a sentence of death against Parwez.

The world media had snapped to attention, but for me it was especially important to see my own Afghan countrymen and women staging a demonstration for my brother, and for freedom. The January 31 protest was organised by the Afghanistan Solidarity Party.

Many of the participants told me that although they did not know Parwez personally, they were marching to protect freedom of expression and democracy in Afghanistan.

With shouts of “Long live democracy!” and “We demand Parwez's release!”, the demonstration went on for almost two hours, ending up at the front gate of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan.


8th February

Update: Presidential Promises...

Afghan president promises justice for Pervez Kambaksh

Afghanistan's President has promised justice for Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, raising hopes that the condemned student journalist will be freed.

At a joint press conference with the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who arrived in Afghanistan on a previously unannounced visit, President Hamid Karzai vowed: Justice will be done. It was the first time that the President has spoken publicly about the 23-year-old's plight, which sparked outrage around the world, after The Independent launched a petition to save him last week. Kambaksh was sentenced to death by an Islamic court for downloading an article about women's rights, which poked fun at Islam by questioning why men are allowed four spouses, but women are not.

Asked about the case by The Independent, Karzai said he had talked it over with the US and British officials, who have both expressed concerns over Kambaksh's fate.

Karzai insisted it was a matter for his country's courts to deal with. He said: This is an issue that our judicial system is handling. I can assure you, that at the end of the day, justice will be done in the right way.

His remarks suggest he is not planning to use his executive powers to intervene at this stage, but that he may yet pardon Kambaksh if the sentence is upheld by Afghanistan's supreme court. Under Afghan law the President has to sign off on a death sentence before it can be carried out.

Conservative clerics and tribal elders have urged the government not to overturn the death penalty. More than 100 religious and tribal leaders attended a rally in Gardez, the capital of Paktia province, in support of the verdict. The province, in eastern Afghanistan, borders Pakistan's tribal belt, which nurtured many of Afghanistan's hardline mullahs.

Khaliq Daad, head of the Islamic council of Paktia, said Kambaksh had "humiliated" Islam. He said: Kambaksh made the Afghan people very upset. It was against the clerics and Islam. He has humiliated Islam. We want the Afghan President to support the court's decision.

If the verdict is upheld Mr Karzai may be forced to choose between the mullahs, who passed the sentence, and the international community, which opposes it.

Zia Bumia, president of the Committee to Protect Afghan Journalists, said the courts had been hijacked by Mr Karzai's enemies to split him between the religious conservatives and his American backers.


20th February

Blasphemy in the Open...

Pervez Kambaksh allowed lawyer and open trial for his appeal

Pervez Kambaksh, the Afghan student sentenced to death for downloading an article about women's rights, has been promised the chance to appeal against his death penalty in an open court, well away from the plotters and extremists accused of hijacking the original proceedings.

Afghanistan's Supreme Court said his appeal would be held in "a very open court" in Kabul, and that he would have every opportunity to select a lawyer.

It was claimed he was originally convicted behind closed doors without proper representation.

Supreme Court Justice Bahauddin Baha said yesterday that the appeal would be heard in Kabul at Kambaksh's request.

More than 87,100 people have signed an Independent petition demanding justice for Kambaksh.


25th February

4 Minute Trial...

No evidence and no representation for Afghan given death sentence

Pervez Kambaksh, the 23-year-old student, whose death sentence for downloading a report on women's rights from the internet has been speaking to The Independent from his Afghan prison.

In a voice soft, somewhat hesitant, he said: The judges had made up their mind about the case without me. The way they talked to me, looked at me, was the way they look at a condemned man. I wanted to say 'this is wrong, please listen to me', but I was given no chance to explain.

For Kambaksh the four-minute hearing has led to four months of incarceration, sharing a 10 by 12 metre cell with 34 others and having the threat of execution constantly hanging over him. His fate appeared sealed when the Afghan senate passed a motion, proposed by Sibghatullkah Mojeddeid, a key ally of the President Hamid Karzai, confirming the death sentence, although this was later withdrawn after domestic and international protests.

Since The Independent exposed the case of Kambaksh, eminent public figures such as the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. and Britain's Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, have lobbied Karzai to reprieve him. A petition launched by this newspaper calling for justice for Kambaksh has gathered nearly 90,000 signatures.

Kambaksh's ordeal began in mid- October after the downloading of the document about Islam and women's rights from an Iranian website. He was questioned first by some teachers of religion from the university where he is a student of journalism.

On 27 October he was arrested at the offices of Jahan-e-Naw, a newspaper for which he had carried out reporting assignments. It was about 10 in the morning. They told me that one of the directors of the NDS [the Afghan national intelligence service] wanted to see me. I was taken to a police station and sat around until 3 o'clock when they said they were arresting me over the website entry. When I protested they said they were doing this for my own safety, otherwise I may be killed.

On 6 December he was brought before a court in Mazar where the charges against him, accusing him of blasphemy and breaching other tenets of Islamic law, were read out. But then the proceedings concluded without any evidence being presented before the court.

He arrived at the court at the next session, on 22 January expecting a date to be set for the trial, only to hear numbing news. They normally sit for just a few hours in the afternoon. I was taken into the court just before it shut at 4 o'clock. There were three judges and a prosecutor and some details of the case were repeated. One of the judges then said to me that I have been found guilty and the sentence was death. I tried to argue, but, as I said, they talked to me like a criminal, they just said I would be taken back to the prison.

I was totally shocked. Afterwards I sat and tried to calculate just how long they had taken to judge my case. I thought at first it was three minutes, but then I worked out it was four. That was it, I have been in prison ever since. All I can hope now is that something can be done at the appeal. I would really like the appeal to be heard in Kabul, I think I will get a better hearing there.

Following the international outcry over the case, and the campaign by Mr Kambaksh's supporters, Afghanistan's Supreme Court has said that the appeal may take place at Kabul, away from local justice in Mazar, and that the hearing this time would be in the open. Justice Bahahuddin Baha also stated that the student would have the right to legal representation.


19th May

Update: Appeal to Save Pervez...

Appealing for at least a lawyer who will brave the death threats

Pervez Kambaksh, the Afghan student sentenced to death after being accused of downloading internet reports on women's rights, yesterday pleaded innocent to charges of blasphemy. He told an appeal court in Kabul that he had been tortured into confessing.

Kambaksh, 24, vehemently denied that he had been responsible for producing anti-Islamic literature. He insisted the prosecution had been motivated by personal malice of two members of staff and their student supporters at the university in Balkh, where he was studying journalism.

He was convicted in proceedings behind closed doors in a trial which he said had lasted just four minutes and where he had been denied legal representation.

Yesterday, in the first public hearing of the case, the prosecution claimed that Kambaksh had disrupted classes at the university by asking questions about women's rights under Islam. It also said he distributed an article on the subject after writing an additional three paragraphs including the phrase This is the real face of Islam ... The prophet Mohamad wrote verses of the holy Koran just for his own benefit.

In a highly emotional statement, Kambaksh said: I'm Muslim and I would never let myself write such an article. These accusations are nonsense, [they] come from two professors and other students because of private hostilities against me. I was tortured by the intelligence service in Balkh province and they made me confess that I wrote three paragraphs in this article.

Kambaksh represented himself because his family are having difficulties finding a lawyer to represent him after threats by fundamentalist groups that anyone taking on the job would be killed.

The head of the panel of three judges at Kabul, Abdul Salaam Qazizada, adjourned the trial until next Sunday to allow Kambaksh further attempts to find a lawyer. As of last night they had not succeeded.

Kambaksh's case has been raised with President Hamid Karzai by Foreign Secretary David Miliband and the US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.


28th May

Update: Looking Good for Pervez...

Afghan student accused of blasphemy equipped for a quick getaway

Sayed Pervez Kambaksh believes his long nightmare is almost over.

The 24-year-old student, sentenced to death in Afganistan for downloading internet reports on women's rights, is allowing himself to be hopeful for the first time since he was condemned.

The Independent has learnt, however, that the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has privately assured Kambaksh's campaign team that he will be freed. Senior government figures have also indicated that they believe his sentence, by a court in Mazar-e-Sharif, was based on a mistaken interpretation of the country's constitutional law.

Kambaksh has already discreetly been issued with a passport which will enable him to start a new life abroad if and when he is freed.

A petition by readers of The Independent to secure justice for him has attracted more than 100,000 signatures. Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, said on a visit to Afghanistan yesterday that he would be raising the matter with Karzai.

Kambaksh said from his cell yesterday that he was aware that the Afghan President may save his life. This is very, very important for me. It was a court which said I must die without even hearing my side of the story. There are many judges who are very conservative and say I have insulted Islam without really considering the evidence.

They themselves are also afraid of extremists and this could influence their decision. That worries me. But I am very grateful to the international media, especially The Independent, for taking an interest in my case. I think that makes it difficult for them to just get rid of me.

According to Samay Hamed, the co-ordinator of Kambaksh's campaign team, President Karzai first agreed to pardon the student in March this year. I ... have been told repeatedly by government ministers that [they] want the matter resolved quickly.


17th June

Update: Not Looking Good for Pervez...

Even the judge is against Afghan student accused of blasphemy

International pressure is all that stands between a young journalism student and the death penalty, say his supporters.

A subdued, anxious crowd filled the courtroom of the Kabul Appeal Court on June 15 for the latest installment in the case of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, the Afghan journalism student facing a death sentence for blasphemy.

There was little evidence of the international media in the courtroom, and the few foreign diplomats present sat quietly, some conferring with the defence from time to time.

The lack of a strong international presence could be bad news for Kambakhsh. Several sources close to the case have said international attention is the only thing sustaining his appeal.

If the eyes of the world were not on him, this judge would just hang Kambakhsh, said one insider, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Presiding judge Abdul Salam Qazizada has weathered several Afghan administrations. He is a holdover from the Taleban regime, and his antagonism to the defendant was visible.

By the end of the June 15 session, it was clear there was to be no swift end to proceedings against Kambakhsh, 23, who is accused of insulting Islam and abusing the Holy Prophet Mohammad. For the fourth time in the past 30 days, the case was adjourned without a decision.

During the session, Qazizada appeared to take on the role of prosecutor rather than impartial judge, engaging in a legal duel with defence attorney Mohammad Afzal Nooristani. Lacking a gavel, he repeatedly banged his pen against his microphone in an effort to halt Nooristani’s defence of his client.

Just tell me why you did these things, insisted Qazizada. What were your motives?

I cannot give you reasons, since I did not do anything, responded Kambakhsh.

The young student is accused of downloading and distributing a text from the internet that criticises, sometimes quite harshly, Islam’s treatment of women. The prosecution contends that Kambakhsh added several paragraphs of his own, and that this proves he is “against Islam”.

The defendant’s brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, who has been a reporter with IWPR for the past six years, was visibly upset by the day’s events. Welcome to the Middle Ages, he grimaced.

A foreign diplomat also expressed consternation at the way the trial was being conducted. I do not see any way out, said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonmity.


1st August

Update: Death Threats...

Lawyer of Afghan student accused of blasphemy threatened

The Afghan lawyer defending a journalist on death row in Kabul has been bombarded with death threats urging him to drop the case.

Islamic extremists repeatedly threatened to murder Afzal Nooristani after he agreed to defend Sayed Pervez Kambaksh in his high-profile appeal.

The 23-year-old student writer was sentenced to death for circulating an article about women's rights. He was tried in a closed court, and denied a defence lawyer. His case has sparked worldwide protests.

In Afghanistan, conservative clerics have led rallies endorsing his conviction, while others have marched for his release. Most lawyers were too afraid to take his case.

I received phone calls threatening to kill me, said Mr Nooristani: I answered two of them and got lots of missed calls. But I told them they could do what they like. It didn't stop me taking the case.

More than 100,000 people have signed an online Independent petition demanding justice for Kambaksh. The United Nations' high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai, have all called for justice to be done.

But speaking at the inaugural meeting of the Afghan Bar Association yesterday, Nooristani warned that the appeal was already deeply flawed, and he said it is almost impossible for Kambaksh to get a fair trial: There's no concrete evidence against him, but still the court insists on keeping him in jail and postponing the trial .


6th September

Update: Appealing For an End to the Delay...

Afghan court drags its feet over blasphemy appeal

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by delays and obstruction in journalist and student Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh's appeal against his death sentence for blasphemy.

Hearings in his appeal, which began more than four months ago in Kabul, have been suspended since his 15 June. This is illegal, his lawyer has told Reporters Without Borders. After an original trial that was such a scandal, we had hoped for exemplary appeal proceedings that respected the rule of law and the presumption of innocence, but instead we are seeing a parody of justice in which appearances take precedent over substance, the press freedom organisation said.

We fail to understand the behaviour of the judges, who are making no effort to ensure that the legal deadlines are respected, Reporters Without Borders added. The judicial authorities need to get a grip of themselves and move ahead with the appeal process so that this young journalist held in Pul-e-Charkhi prison can be acquitted and released as soon as possible.

Kambakhsh's lawyer, Afzal Nuristani, told Reporters Without Borders: An appeal court is legally obliged to rule on a case within two months, but the appeal has been suspended since 15 June. The court is waiting for witnesses from Mazar-i-Sharif, but they have not come! Their evidence is not important for the case because they are not direct witnesses. They have been summoned three times but they have not appeared.


22nd October

Update: Afghan Court Insults Islam...

20 Years of injustice for distributing article about women's rights

An Afghan appeal court yesterday overturned a death sentence for a journalism student accused of blasphemy and instead sentenced him to 20 years in prison.

A three-judge panel jailed 24-year-old Parwez Kambakhsh after a day of arguments between the student's defence lawyer and state witnesses.

Kambakhsh was studying journalism at Balkh University in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and writing for a local newspaper when he was arrested in October 2007.

Prosecutors alleged that Kambakhsh disrupted classes by asking questions about women's rights under Islam. They also said he illegally distributed an article he printed off the internet that asks why Islam does not modernise to give women equal rights. He also allegedly scribbled his own comments on the paper.

A lower court sentenced him to death in a trial critics have called flawed in part because Kambakhsh had no lawyer representing him.

The head of Tuesday's panel, Abdul Salaam Qazizada, struck down the lower court's death penalty but said the decision can be appealed to the Supreme Court.


10th March

Update: Supreme Injustice...

Afghanistan's Supreme Court upholds 20 year blasphemy sentence

Afghanistan's Supreme Court has upheld a 20-year jail term for blasphemy handed to Afghan journalist Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, who claimed men and women were equal.

Kambakhsh's brother said the family had just learned of the closed-door ruling delivered a month ago in the absence of Yaqub Kambakhsh, his lawyer or family members, the Information Safety and Freedom media watchdog reported.

We thought there would be some justice in the capital of Afghanistan and even at the highest level of the judicial system, wrote Yaqub Kambakhsh in a letter sent to Information Safety and Freedom: But their silent decision seems that first of all there is no justice in Afghanistan at any level. Kambakhsh is the latest victim.

Twenty-eight year-old Kambakhsh's troubles began in 1997, when he wrote in his blog that extremist mullahs had distorted the true meaning of Islam's holy book or Koran: If a Muslim man may have four wives, why shouldn't a wife have four husbands .

He was arrested on blasphemy charges in the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif in 2007 and in October that year a local court condemned him to death

The death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment following pressure from international human rights organisations.


18th September

Updated: Pervez Saved...

Student jailed for blasphemy in Afghanistan is freed

Twenty months on, and with more than 100,000 signatures from Independent readers seeking his release, Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the Afghan student sentenced to death for the ‘crime' of downloading information on women's rights, is free.

The Independent has learned that he is now living outside the country after being secretly pardoned by President Karzai.

Kambaksh was moved from his cell in Kabul's main prison a fortnight ago and kept at a secure location for a few days before being flown out of the country. Prior to his departure, he spoke of how his relief was mixed with deep regret at knowing he was unlikely to see his family or country again.

Only a handful of people were aware of the intensive diplomatic negotiations which took place behind the scenes to get Kambaksh out of jail, details of which cannot be revealed to protect those, Afghans and foreigners, who were involved.

According to senior officials Karzai has been well aware of how Kambaksh's case was reinforcing the negative image of his country abroad but also had to be mindful of not being seen to be bowing to Western pressure. Now his role in rectifying something which was widely seen as a miscarriage of justice will be lauded by the West, human rights groups and progressive opinion in Afghanistan. But he will face opposition from religious conservatives, which may prove electorally costly if there is a second-round run off at the polls.

Update: Angry Mullahs

9th September 2009. See article from

Conservative and religious groups in Afghanistan reacted with fury yesterday to the news that Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, who was sentenced to death for promoting women's rights, has been freed.

After President Hamid Karzai secretly pardoned the 24-year-old student, hardliners called for an urgent ulama, a meeting of Islamic scholars, to organise protests against the decision.

Maulavi Hanif Shah Hosseini, a prominent mullah, declared: Kambaksh committed a crime against the Koran and the people who conspired so that he escaped the law have also committed a crime.

All the decisions to help this man who disrespected Islam are coming from the foreigners. But the decision to follow along with this came from Karzai and the Afghan government and we disown them. We are going to call for a gathering of the ulama to decide what to do. We are not going to make a big stand against this and any trouble will be the fault of people who helped Kambaksh.

Qari Rahmatullah, MP for Kunduz, said: This just shows that our country is not independent. Our policies are dictated by outsiders. Why should a man be allowed to insult Islam and then just walk away? And he added: Good Muslim people will be unhappy about this and Mr Karzai will have difficulties if the voting [in the election] goes to the second round.

Update: Angry Parliament

18th September 2009. Based on article from

Afghanistan's upper house of Parliament has condemned the presidential pardon of a journalist sentenced to 20 years in prison for downloading an internet article about women's rights and Islam.

The upper house expresses its strongest concerns and annoyance and considers this decision contrary to the Islamic values and the laws in place in the country, said the statement signed by the speaker of the upper house.

It called on Kambakhsh to serve his term, and said that those convicted of apostasy and hatred of Islam must be punished.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said last week the case would be remembered as a miscarriage of justice marked by religious intolerance, police mistreatment and incompetence on the part of certain judges. Kabul must ensure that blasphemy is no longer used to bring politically motivated charges and to suppress free expression , it added.


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