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Afghanistan 31 January 2008

Authorities urged to quickly reexamine case of journalist under sentence of death

A demonstration was held today in Kabul in support of Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, while the senate issued a statement disagreeing with the statement issued yesterday by the senate president supporting Kambakhsh’s death sentence.

“Today’s demonstration shows that there is support for this young journalist in Afghanistan, while the senate’s retraction of its earlier statement is also encouraging,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The authorities must now take the necessary measures, which include transferring the case to Kabul so that it can be dealt with in normal conditions.

The press freedom organisation added: “The safety of Kambakhsh and his family must also be ensured, as the death threats against them have been increasing. And we urge foreign governments to continue to rally to his defence.”

The statement published today by the senate (Mashrano Jirga), taking issue with yesterday’s statement by senate president Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, said: “Justice is independent and only the courts are competent to issue a ruling.” The senate’s secretary, Aminaldin Mozafari, told journalists that “the publication of the senate’s first communique was a technical error.”

Several experts said the senate had no right to take a position on a court decision until all the appeal procedures have been completed. Kambakhsh can appeal twice, including to the supreme court, and to request pardon to President Hamid Karzai.

More than 200 people took part in today’s demonstration in Kabul to demand that the quashing of Kambakhsh’s conviction and his release. “Kambakhsh’s death sentence is the last nail in the coffin of free speech in Afghanistan” was one of the slogans used by the demonstrators, who ended their march outside the UN’s offices. The protest was called by the Solidarity Party. A Taliban spokesman meanwhile called for a “severe punishment” for Kambakhsh.

According to some reports, the government intervened with the prosecutor’s office and criticised the trial’s conduct. But the information ministry has said the case is not linked to Kambakhsh’s work as a journalist.

His brother, senior journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, told the press freedom organisation that he still has not found a lawyer ready to defend him. He said the charges were trumped-up by the Mazar-i-Sharif authorities in retaliation for his - Ibrahimi’s - articles on human rights and corruption in the region. A trap was allegedly set for Kambakhsh, who found himself being accused of blasphemy for distributing an article by an Iranian intellectual about passages in the Koran dealing with women. Anyone can download the article from the Internet.

Ghows Zalmay, a former journalist who became the attorney-general’s spokesman, is also facing the possibility of a death sentence for publishing a translation of the Koran into Dari. He was arrested in early November 2007 after conservative religious leaders said the translation was “un-Islamic” and misrepresented verses about adultery and begging.

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