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Afghanistan 9 March 2009

Call for presidential pardon after supreme court upholds Perwiz Kambakhsh’s 20-year jail sentence for "blasphemy"

Reporters Without Borders is appalled to learn that the Afghan supreme court has upheld the 20-year prison sentence which Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh received on a blasphemy charge. The supreme court took its decision without hearing arguments from the defence. In fact, the journalist’s lawyer learned of the ruling as he was about to submit his letter of defence.

“At no point in this case has the Afghan judicial system observed the correct procedure,” Reporters Without Borders said. “After an initial trial behind closed doors without any defence lawyer and after all the appeal court irregularities, the supreme court has now confirmed a very severe sentence without even hearing the defence’s arguments.”

The press freedom organisation continued: “It is astounding that the supreme court failed to overturn the appeal court verdict, as none of the prosecution witnesses said he had received a copy of the allegedly blasphemous article from Kambakhsh and one of them retracted what he had said at the initial trial, recognising that his initial testimony was given under duress.”

The organisation added: “We now fear that Kambakhsh could be transferred to Pul-e-Charkhi prison or Mazar-i-Sharif prison, where his life would be in danger.”

Reporters Without Borders solemnly appeals to President Hamid Karzai to use his right of pardon in order to have Kambakhsh released without delay. Karzai had promised several foreign leaders that the young journalist would be freed.

Kambakhsh’s lawyer, Mohamad Afzal Nuristani, told Reporters Without Borders: “I went to the supreme court to hand in the defence arguments. There, I was told that the court confirmed the 20-year sentence a month ago and that the case has been already passed back to the prosecutor. How can they reach such a decision without even waiting to hear what the defence has to say? (...) I am going to file an appeal.”

Kambakhsh’s brother, fellow journalist Yaqub Ibrahimi, told Reporters Without Borders: “We thought there would be more justice in the Afghan capital and especially at the summit of the judicial system, but this decision taken in silence leads us to fear that there is no justice at all in this country.”

Kambakhsh was arrested on a blasphemy in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on 27 October 2007 for downloading an article about the role of women in Islam. A Kabul appeal court imposed the 20-year prison sentence in October 2008.

Reporters Without Borders visited Kambakhsh at the Kabul provisional detention centre in January. He continues to insist on his innocence. “From the outset I have said I was innocent,” he told the delegation. “Under the law and the constitution, I have committed no crime. Neither of the two courts proved my guilt. I was convicted solely because of pressure from certain people, not because of the law.”

A journalism student at Balkh university and a reporter for the newspaper Jahan-e-Naw (“New World”), Kambakhsh was arrested in Mazar-i-Sharif on 27 October 2007 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. Members of the security forces tortured him to obtain a confession.

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