A young man, a student of journalism, is
sentenced to death by an Islamic court for downloading a report from the
internet. The sentence is then upheld by the country's rulers. This is
Afghanistan – not in Taliban times but six years after "liberation"
and under the democratic rule of the West's ally Hamid Karzai.
The fate of Sayed
Pervez Kambaksh has led to domestic and international protests, and deepening
concern about erosion of civil liberties in Afghanistan. He was accused of
blasphemy after he downloaded a report from a Farsi website which stated that
Muslim fundamentalists who claimed the Koran justified the oppression of women
had misrepresented the views of the prophet Mohamed.
Mr Kambaksh, 23, distributed the tract to
fellow students and teachers at Balkh University with the aim, he said, of
provoking a debate on the matter. But a complaint was made against him and he
was arrested, tried by religious judges without – say his friends and family –
being allowed legal representation and sentenced to death.
The Independent is launching a campaign
today to secure justice for Mr Kambaksh. The UN, human rights groups,
journalists' organisations and Western diplomats have urged Mr Karzai's
government to intervene and free him. But the Afghan Senate passed a motion
yesterday confirming the death sentence.
The MP who proposed the ruling condemning
Mr Kambaksh was Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, a key ally of Mr Karzai. The Senate
also attacked the international community for putting pressure on the Afghan
government and urged Mr Karzai not to be influenced by outside un-Islamic
The case of Mr Kambaksh, who also worked a
s reporter for the Jahan-i-Naw (New World) newspaper, is seen in Afghanistan as
yet another chapter in the escalation in the confrontation between Afghanistan
and the West.
It comes in the wake of Mr Karzai accusing
the British of actually worsening the situation in Helmand province by their
actions and his subsequent blocking of the appointment of Lord Ashdown as the
UN envoy and expelling a British and an Irish diplomat.
Demonstrations, organised by clerics,
against the alleged foreign interference have been held in the northern city of
Mazar-i-Sharif, where Mr Kambaksh was arrested. Aminuddin Muzafari, the first
secretary of the houses of parliament, said: "People should realise that
as we are representatives of an Islamic country therefore we can never tolerate
insults to reverences of Islamic religion."
At a gathering in Takhar province, Maulavi
Ghulam Rabbani Rahmani, the heads of the Ulema council, said: "We want the
government and the courts to execute the court verdict on Kambaksh as soon as
possible." In Parwan province, another senior cleric, Maulavi Muhammad
Asif, said: "This decision is for disrespecting the holy Koran and the
government should enforce the decision before it came under more pressure from
UK officials say they are particularly
concerned about such draconian action being taken against a journalist. The
Foreign Office and Department for International Development has donated large
sums to the training of media workers in the country. The Government funds the
Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) in the Helmand capital, Lashkar
Mr Kambaksh's brother, Sayed Yaqub
Ibrahimi, is also a journalist and has written articles for IWPR in which he
accused senior public figures, including an MP, of atrocities, including
murders. He said: "Of course we are all very worried about my brother.
What has happened to him is very unjust. He has not committed blasphemy and he
was not even allowed to have a legal defence. and what took place was a secret
Qayoum Baabak, the editor of Jahan-i-Naw,
said a senior prosecutor in Mazar-i-Sharif, Hafiz Khaliqyar, had warned
journalists that they would be punished if they protested against the death
sentence passed on Mr Kambaksh.
Jean MacKenzie, country director for IWPR,
said: "We feel very strongly that this is designed to put pressure on
Pervez's brother, Yaqub, who has done some of the hardest-hitting pieces
outlining abuses by some very powerful commanders."
Rahimullah Samander, the president of the
Afghan Independent Journalists' Association, said: "This is unfair, this
is illegal. He just printed a copy of something and looked at it and read it.
How can we believe in this 'democracy' if we can't even read, we can't even
study? We are asking Mr Karzai to quash the death sentence before it is too
The circumstances surrounding the
conviction of Mr Kambaksh are also being viewed as a further attempt to claw
back the rights gained by women since the overthrow of the Taliban. The most
prominent female MP, Malalai Joya, has been suspended after criticising her
Under the Afghan constitution, say legal
experts, Mr Kambaksh has the right to appeal to the country's supreme court.
Some senior clerics maintain, however, that since he has been convicted under
religious laws, the supreme court should not bring secular interpretations to
Mr Karzai has the right to intervene and
pardon Mr Kambaksh. However, even if he is freed, it would be hard for the
student to escape retribution in a country where fundamentalists and warlords
are increasingly in the ascendancy.
How you can save Pervez
Sayed Pervez Kambaksh's imminent execution
is an affront to civilised values. It is not, however, a foregone conclusion.
If enough international pressure is brought to bear on President Karzai's
government, his sentence may yet be overturned. Add your weight to the campaign
by urging the Foreign Office to demand that his life be spared. Sign our
e-petition at www.independent.co.uk/petition