Melon Farmers Original Version

Blasphemy in Afghanistan

Afghan sentenced to death for blasphemy

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

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