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Afghanistan 6 February 2008

President Karzai tells delegation not to worry about journalist under sentence of death

Reporters Without Borders welcomes the undertakings given today by President Hamid Karzai as regards Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, the young journalist who has been sentenced to death on a trumped-up charge of distributing information that insulted Islam. Karzai told a delegation of Afghan journalists that they had no reason to worry about him.

"We want to believe that President Karzai really is determined to find a rapid solution to this appalling affair," the press freedom organisation said. "The death sentence passed on Kambakhsh by a court in Mazar-i-Sharif is unworthy of Afghanistan, whose constitution protects free expression. We call for the case to be quickly transferred to Kabul and for the conviction to be quashed."

Reporters Without Borders added: "This new abuse of the blasphemy law should prompt the Afghan authorities to find a way to provide better protection for freedom of expression, one that will be effective even when subjects as sensitive as religion are involved."

The delegation from the Afghanistan Independent Journalists Association that met President Karzai today in Kabul briefed him about the case and asked him to intervene. Rahimullah Samandar, a member of the delegation, told Reporters Without Borders that Karzai gave them hope that Kambakhsh would be freed soon.

A presidential spokesman spoke yesterday of Karzai’s concern about the case but said the courts should do their work.

The blog has posted a recent photo of Kambakhsh in Mazar-i-Sharif prison, where his family was able to visit him on 2 February. He is reported to be in good health but worried about what will happen to him.

A court in Mazar-i-Sharif sentenced Kambakhsh to death on a charge of blasphemy on 22 January, at the end of a summary trial held behind closed doors. Reporters Without Borders has learned that the lawyer appointed by the family to defend him did not dare attend the trial for fear of reprisals.

Kambakhsh’s brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, a journalist who is known for his articles about human rights abuses in the north of the country, is looking for a new lawyer in Kabul.

A journalism student and reporter for the Jahan-e Naw ("New World") newspaper, Kambakhsh has been detained since 27 October 2007.

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