AFP, October 9, 2008

Lawyer demands release for Afghan reporter on death row

Kambakhsh's plight has prompted alarm from international media rights groups and governments, and calls for Western-backed President Hamid Karzai to intervene.

KABUL — The lawyer of an Afghan reporter sentenced to death on blasphemy charges accused authorities Thursday of holding his client beyond a legal deadline, as the young man neared a full year in detention.

Parwiz Kambakhsh
Mr Kambaksh was arrested for distributing a pamphlet about women's rights.
RAWA's Appeal ( )

The appeal of Perwiz Kambakhsh -- arrested last October and sentenced to death by a primary court in January -- has been repeatedly delayed because witnesses who had first testified against him did not turn up to court.

"Based on the law, an appeal court can hold a suspect only for two months. Within this two months, it either should rule or otherwise the suspect must be freed," lawyer Mohammad Afzal Shormach Nuristani told reporters.

Nuristani said he had challenged the appeal court in June to present 12 people who had apparently testified against Kambakhsh in his northern home town of Mazar-i-Sharif.

"They can't hold my client because the witnesses don't turn up. This is against the law," Nuristani said.

The reporter, in his early 20s, has alleged torture during his custody. He has said the primary court trial which sentenced him to death 10 months ago lasted only minutes and he was not given legal representation.

A university student of journalism, he was convicted of blasphemy for distributing an article he downloaded from the Internet which questioned aspects of Islam.

The article raised issues about the Koran, the Prophet Mohammad and Islam's views on women.

Afghanistan's judicial system is based on Islamic Sharia law, which forbids criticism of Islam and rules that the death penalty should be applied in cases of blasphemy.

Journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi says his brother Parwez has been jailed and threatened with death because of his own reporting on human rights violations in the north.
A leading journalist in northern Afghanistan says his brother has been imprisoned on false charges as a way of pressuring him not to write articles critical of local officials and strongmen.
IWPR, Dec.9, 2007

Kambakhsh's plight has prompted alarm from international media rights groups and governments, and calls for Western-backed President Hamid Karzai to intervene.

Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom group, said the case was "the most emblematic today" of the death penalty being used to intimidate journalists and those who defend free speech.

It was a paradox in a country "under the surveillance of powerful parliamentary democracies," the watchdog body said, referring to world powers such as the United States helping to stabilise the war-torn nation.

"In just one week's time, on 17 October, he will begin his second year in detention, which in itself is an appalling punishment for someone whose only crime was to have downloaded and kept articles about the role of women in Muslim society," it said.

Its statement was to mark the October 10 World Day Against the Death Penalty.

A booming media is one of the successes of post-Taliban Afghanistan but journalists are at the same time subjected to intimidation from the courts, officials, extremist insurgents and US-led military.

In a recent case, a court last month sentenced an ex-journalist to 20 years in prison each for publishing a translation of the Koran alleged to contain errors.

Another reporter was released from a US military base in September after being held for nearly a year without charge.

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