On the first anniversary of his arrest, Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its call for the release of Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a young journalism student and a reporter for the newspaper Jahan-e-Naw (“New World”). Kambakhsh was arrested on a blasphemy charge in Mazar-i-Sharif, in the northern province of Balkh, on 27 October 2007.
“Kambakhsh must be freed as a matter of urgency and his blasphemy conviction must be quashed,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Although no longer under sentence of death, he committed no crime and it is unacceptable that he is still in prison. We join his lawyer and Afghan journalists’ organisations in urging President Hamid Karzai to intercede on his behalf and to find a way to protect free expression even when such sensitive matters as religion are involved.”
Kambakhsh’s lawyer, Afzal Nuristani, told Reporters Without Borders: “There many irregularities in both of his trials. In the second trial before an appeal court, the defence was not able to call its witnesses. The court only heard the prosecution’s witness, whose testimony had nothing to do with the charges. Kambakhsh was convicted on a charge that does not exist under our laws. The supreme court has five months to issue a ruling on the case, but I have asked the president to intercede as it is his job to ensure respect for the constitution and the legality of the judicial system.”
Firmly condemning the appeal court’s verdict, Afghan Independent Journalists Association president Rahimullah Samandar also called on President Karzai to intercede. “Never has a journalist been so severely sentenced in Afghanistan as Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh,” he said. “Furthermore, this verdict violates the constitution, which guarantees press freedom. Perwiz’s example creates a climate of fear for journalists and within the media. Ths voices of protest have been silenced. This is disturbing for the future of free expression in Afghanistan.”
Aged 23, Kambakhsh was arrested on a charge of “blasphemy and distribution of texts defamatory of Islam.” Under pressure from the Council of Mullahs and local officials, the Mazar-i-Sharif court sentenced him to death in a trial held behind closed doors and without a defence lawyer on 22 January.
Abdul Salam Quazizadeh, the presiding judge of a Kabul appeal court, upheld his conviction on 21 October but commuted the death sentence to 20 years in prison.
Questioned by a reporter during a White House press briefing on 24 October, US presidential spokesperson Dana Perino said: "We’re obviously disturbed about it. We think that everyone should be able to express their views. And I think that Afghanistan has a long way to go. They do have a fragile democracy." Perino said she would find out with White House officials if the case has been brought up with President Bush.