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Kabul appeals court replaces young journalist’s death sentence with 20 years in prison

Kabul appeals court replaces young journalist’s death sentence with 20 years in prison
Sent to prison: Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, an Afghan journalist accused of insulting Islam, checks his documents on his trial, at a court in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, October 21, 2008. An Afghan appeals court has overturned a death sentence for the journalism student accused of blasphemy and instead sentenced him to 20 years in prison. A lower court sentenced him to death in a trial critics have called flawed.Photo: Associated Press (AP) / Rahamat Gul)

An Afghan appeals court has sentenced journalist Sayed Parvez Kambakhsh to 20 years in prison for blasphemy overturning a death sentence ordered by a provincial court. Kambakhsh was accused of printing and distributing an article from the Internet about Islam and women’s rights, on which he had written some comments about the prophet Mohammed’s failings on that issue.

"The court has sentenced Perwiz Kambakhsh to 20 years jail for the crime he has committed. But this is not the final hearing, he has the right to appeal," judge Abdul Salaam Qazizada told the court on Tuesday.

"I am not convinced by the court session because witnesses didn't say a word relating to the distribution of that anti-Islamic article of which he is accused — they [witnesses] were simply discussing some classroom arguments with no logical connection to this case," lawyer Afzal Noristani told reporters after the verdict, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

A journalism student at Balkh university and a reporter for the newspaper Jahan-e-Naw ("New World"), Kambakhsh, 23, was arrested in Mazar-i-Sharif on October 27, 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 January 22 this year. Members of the security forces were said to have tortured him to obtain a confession.

"Afghan justice has again failed to protect Afghan law and guarantee free expression," Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) reacted. "By sentencing this young journalist to imprisonment, the appeal court has eliminated the possibility of his being executed, but it has also exposed the degree to which some Afghan judges are susceptible to pressure from fundamentalists. Kambakhsh was able this time to be represented by a lawyer, but the appeal proceedings were marred by ideological distortion, a glaring lack of evidence and incomprehensible delays that ended up undermining the court’s serenity."

John Dempsey, a US lawyer and campaigner for reform of the Afghan judicial system, said the decision was flawed, according to an Associated Press (AP) report. "It was not a fair trial. Procedurally, he did not have any of his rights respected. He was detained far longer than he should have been legally held. The defence lawyer was not even allowed to meet the witnesses until the night before the trial," Dempsey said.

According to RSF, Abdul Salam Quazizadeh, the president of the Kabul appeal court, issued his ruling after several witnesses from Balkh province were questioned earlier in the day in court by both the prosecution and the defence. Five of Kambakhsh’s former teachers at Balkh university testified that he had asked questions that were "insulting" towards Islam. But a former fellow student retracted his earlier accusations, saying the police had pressured him to incriminate Kambakhsh.

Kambakhsh’s lawyer demonstrated that there was no proof of any blasphemy towards Islam and that the scant testimony offered by the prosecution as evidence did not directly concern the charge, according to RSF. Journalists in the courtroom reported that, before being led away by police, Kambakhsh said: "I do not accept his decision."

His lawyer said after the hearing: "This new verdict is an insult to the idea of justice and the Afghan constitution." His brother said: "The Mazar-i-Sharif sentence has been overturned but the accusations have been upheld although they are completely false. The judges have exposed the horror of the Afghan judicial system to the world. It is clear that the judges sentenced him on the basis of their personal views, not on the basis of Islamic laws or the constitution."

Date posted: October 21, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 454