In the SOTU Monday night, George Bush cheered on the "young democracy" in Afghanistan:
"In Afghanistan, America, our 25 NATO allies and 15 partner nations are helping the Afghan people defend their freedom and rebuild their country. Thanks to the courage of these military and civilian personnel, a nation that was once a safe haven for al-Qaida is now a young democracy where boys and girls are going to school, new roads and hospitals are being built, and people are looking to the future with new hope.
Yet just six days ago a young Afghan reporter was sentenced to death in Afghanistan and the case points to the return of both judicial extremists and the continuing power of the warlords:
A journalist in northern Afghanistan, Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh, has been sentenced to death for blasphemy in a summary trial in which he had no legal representation and no opportunity to defend himself.
Sentencing took place in a closed session of the lower court of Balkh region on January 22.
“It was about four pm when guards brought me into a room where there were three judges and an attorney sitting behind their desks. There was no one else,” Kambakhsh told IWPR.
“The death sentence had already been written. I wanted to say something, but they would not let me speak.
“They too said nothing. They just handed me a piece of paper on which it was written that I had been sentenced to death. Then armed guards came and took me out of the room, and brought me back to the prison.”
Kaambakhsh is a third-year journalism student at Balkh University, and also reports for the Jahan-e-Naw daily in Mazar-e-Sharif. He was arrested on October 27, 2007, on charges of distributing anti-Islamic propaganda.
The accusation was based on an article from the internet that had been circulated around Balkh University, ostensibly signed by Kaambakhsh. The student insists he had nothing to do with the paper and did not sign it.
Radio Netherlands has more about the accusation:
Mr Kambakhsh is accused of downloading an article by the Iranian writer Arash Bikoda (Persian for 'Godless') and distributing it among friends. The 12-page article is thought to contain criticism of how women are treated in Islamic societies. Mr Kambakhsh was initially suspected of having written the article himself.
The Institute for War and Peace Reporting told the BBC it "believed Kambakhsh may have been targeted because his brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, a staff reporter for the institute, had written articles that criticised local strongmen."
"We feel very strongly that this is a complete fabrication on the part of the authorities... designed to put pressure on Perwiz's brother Yaqub, who has done some of the hardest-hitting pieces outlining abuses by some very powerful commanders in Balkh and the other northern provinces," the institute's country director Jean MacKenzie said.
In fact, the Afghan Information Ministry in fact stated:
"But his arrest and sentence given to him has not been in relation with his journalistic activities and thus has no connection with the work of this ministry," it said.
Afghan journalists are very concerned:
Haroon Najafizada, secretary for the South Asian Free Media Association in northern Afghanistan, is concerned at the way this case has been handled and its implications for free speech.
“This sentence was passed in closed session. The media should have been present,” he said. “If things continue like this, freedom of speech in northern Afghanistan will be in serious jeopardy, and reporters will begin to censor themselves.”
On January 21, the day before sentence was passed, a group of journalists gathered in the Balkh governor’s office to protest Kaambakhsh’s continued detention.
According to Najafizada, the prosecutor threatened reprisals if the media did not back down.
“Hafiz Khaliqyar, the prosecutor for Balkh, spoke to us in a very bad tone,” said Najafizada. “In front of the governor and all of the authorities in Balkh, he said that he would arrest anyone who defended Kambakhsh.”
RAWA is asking for help to free Perwiz from this sentence:
The accusations are so ridiculous and injudicious that they make any freedom-loving person want to stand and say enough is enough. Mr. Kambakhsh is accused of printing/distributing an article from the Internet, which points out controversial verses of the Quran regarding women’s rights. The book “Religion in the History of Civilization” (by Will Durant) taken from his living room has been kept as an evidence against him in the court!
In a country where for the last six years there are many claims regarding “democracy”, “human rights”, and “freedom of press”, the religious fascists have their grip on justice and try every possible way to mute anyone who criticizes or comments about the Northern Alliance criminals.
Imprisonment of Parwiz Kambakhsh is not only for his enlightening articles in a local newspaper, Jahan-e-Now (The New World), but also because of his brother Yaqub Ibrahimi, who is a well-known, brave and realistic reporter and exposed many criminal faces from Jehadi mafia in Northern Afghanistan to the world public.
You can join in an email campaign to plead for Perwiz' life and freedom with emails to the following. Since any appeal he files will be heard in the same "court" as his sentencing, human rights groups are asking people to include a request that his case be moved to the courts in Kabul:
United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)
The Supreme Court of Afghanistan
And by contacting the The Embassy of Afghanistan at:
Main Telphone: 202.483.6410
Main Fax: 202.483.6488
So far, President Karzai has been silent about the Perwiz case but hopefully international pressure can encourage him to speak up for freedom of the press and a fair judiciary.