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by Tahir Qadiry

Muslim Anger Is More About Terrorist Stereotypes, Not Cartoon

(IPS) MAZAR-E-SHARIF -- An Afghan court has sentenced a 23-year-old journalist to death for blasphemy, apparently after criticizing the Prophet Mohammed's views on women's rights, and downloading and circulating material from the Internet.

Sayed Parwiz Kambakhsh, a reporter on the Jahan-e Now (The New World) daily newspaper and student of journalism at Balkh University, was arrested on Oct. 12 and charged with offending Islam and the Koran.

Kambakhsh was sentenced to death by a court in the northern Balkh Province on Jan. 22. He has already filed an appeal against his sentence, family sources told IPS.

"The death sentence was in accordance with Article 130 of the Constitution," Shamsurrahman, head of the Balkh local court, said after the sentencing.

This provision apparently gave the court authority to rule in accordance with highly orthodox Sunni Muslim jurisprudence in cases not covered by existing laws, according to sources.

Kambakhsh had been charged after complaints by his fellow students at university, according to court documents. They had accused him of passing around blasphemous articles and "mocking Islam and the Koran." His professors had claimed that he had interrupted lectures to fire off questions about Islam.

"We collected many documents that proved the accusations," Shamsurrahman said.

Shamsurrahman claimed that the case had been heard in an open court and reporters could have attended. But members of Kambakhsh's family had not been invited because they were "not that important."

"All our hearings are held in the open," he declared, responding to widespread criticism that the public had been barred from observing the trial.

A national security officer, who declined to be identified, told IPS that books on religion belonging to Kambakhsh and messages on his mobile telephone had also shown that he had "mocked" Islam.

Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, brother of the condemned journalist and himself a reporter for the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), dismissed the accusations as a baseless attempt to stifle freedom of the press.

"The court's verdict is unfair and the conduct of the trial was a violation of human rights," he told IPS.

"My brother told me only three judges and a prosecutor were present. Everything was decided beforehand. He said he was only invited in to hear the sentence being read out. 'I wanted to say something but they wouldn't allow me to comment,' he told me," the brother said.

He added: "The article my brother is accused of writing was published on Internet websites years ago." He was not the author, he insisted.

Ibrahimi claimed that his brother was being made a scapegoat for his own writing for the IWPR.

"This is a revengeful act aimed at me. The case is politically motivated, orchestrated by a political group."

But the governor of Balkh Province, Atta Mohammad Nur, denied he played any role in the arrest of the journalist and the charges.

"The decision was taken by the prosecution and court," he told a press conference.

Kambakhsh's arrest and death sentence has been denounced by several human rights organizations and Afghan journalists.

Two weeks before the trial, scores of journalists and members of the civil society groups gathered at the Balkh Human Rights Commission to call for Kambakhsh's release.

A spokesman for the South Asia Free Media Association's committee in the north of Afghanistan and editor-in-chief of the Jahan-e Now daily paper, Abdul Qayum Babak, denounced the sentence as an attack on freedom of expression.

"Parwiz (Kambakhsh) is being detained without any justification. He did not write any articles. This one he is accused of writing was on the Internet. If downloading something from Internet is a crime, why doesn't the government filter and block Internet websites?"

He added that possessing a book on religion and holding animated talks with professors was no justification for anyone being arrested.

"Kambakhsh's detention and holding in a cell with criminals is against the law and the international conventions on journalism."

Babak added that journalists were facing many difficulties in Afghanistan and their rights were "still being violated."

When asked what the Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission had done to ensure Kambakhsh's release, Qazi Sayed Mohammad Sami, head of commission's northern division, told IPS that he had called on officials to review the case.

"If someone is detained, international rules should be observed and the accusations should be clear. I am urging the responsible officials to assess this case very rigorously."

But clerics in Balkh and Konduz provinces have already asked the government not to back down and release Kambakhsh unpunished, according to sources.

Some students would also strongly oppose any amnesty. Shortly after Kambakhsh's detention, dozens gathered in Mazar-e-Sharif demanding the death penalty.

In a letter to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, the president of the European parliament, Hans-Gert Pšttering has called "in the strongest possible terms" for a stay of execution.

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Albion Monitor   January 30, 2008   (

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