Reporters Without Borders is outraged by delays and obstruction in journalist and student Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh’s appeal against his death sentence for blasphemy. Hearings in his appeal, which began more than four months ago in Kabul, have been suspended since his 15 June. This is illegal, his lawyer has told Reporters Without Borders.
“After an original trial that was such a scandal, we had hoped for exemplary appeal proceedings that respected the rule of law and the presumption of innocence, but instead we are seeing a parody of justice in which appearances take precedent over substance,” the press freedom organisation said.
“We fail to understand the behaviour of the judges, who are making no effort to ensure that the legal deadlines are respected,” Reporters Without Borders added. “The judicial authorities need to get a grip of themselves and move ahead with the appeal process so that this young journalist held in Pul-e-Charkhi prison can be acquitted and released as soon as possible.”
Kambakhsh’s lawyer, Afzal Nuristani, told Reporters Without Borders: “An appeal court is legally obliged to rule on a case within two months, but the appeal has been suspended since 15 June. The court is waiting for witnesses from Mazar-i-Sharif, but they have not come! Their evidence is not important for the case because they are not direct witnesses. They have been summoned three times but they have not appeared.”
Nuristani added: “I do not know the reasons for this suspension but it is illegal (...) Unfortunately, this problems does not concern Kambakhsh alone. It is common in the judicial system. A solution must be found. Innocent defendants such as my client lose a lot of time.”
Kambakhsh’s appeal has been on hold since 15 June because students and teachers from the university in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif have not appeared before the appeal court, which is in Kabul. Appeal hearings began in Kabul on 17 April after Kambakhsh was transferred to the capital at the supreme court’s behest.
The appeal court judges refused to order Kambakhsh’s release despite the existence of a medical report confirming he was tortured while held in Mazar-i-Sharif. His brother, fellow journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, meanwhile continues to be threatened in Mazar-i-Sharif because of his reporting on the situation in the north of the country. He recently wrote about arms and drug trafficking in the area adjoining the border with Tajikistan.
Detained since 27 October 2007, Kambakhsh was sentenced to death for blasphemy at the end of a summary trial held behind closed doors on 22 January in Mazar-i-Sharif. His family asked around 10 people to testify at the trial in his defence but they refused for fear of reprisals.