Afghanistan's Blasphemy Law
Afghanistan today enjoys much more freedom than it did under the Taliban, but sadly the country still has a long way to go. Last October, an Afghan journalist was arrested and charged with blasphemy for distributing "anti-Islamic" literature. The young man faces the death penalty if convicted.
This press release from the Committee to Protect Journalists has the details:
The Committee to Protect Journalists is greatly concerned by the detention and upcoming trial of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh in Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh province, northern Afghanistan. The 23-year-old journalism student and brother of prominent journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi will be tried in a religious Islamic court on charges of blasphemy, according to Rahimullah Samander, head of the Afghan Independent Journalists Association and the Committee to Protect Afghan Journalists. The court has already issued a statement recommending that Kambakhsh receive the death sentence, Samander said.
Ibrahimi, Kambakhsh’s brother, has been the focus of escalating pressure over sensitive reports he has written criticizing local officials and warlords, according to his employer, the Institute of War and Peace Reporting. It and other Afghan sources say they fear that the charges against Kambakhsh are a pretext meant to stop his brother from reporting.
“We are deeply concerned by reports that Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh is being threatened with the death penalty under Sharia law as a pretext to intimidate his brother and fellow journalist from reporting on matters that embarrass powerful political interests,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the authorities to drop all charges against him immediately.”
Kambakhsh was arrested on October 27 for distributing what official said was anti-Islamic literature. A journalism student at Balkh University, Kambakhsh also reports for the local daily Jahan-e-Naw. He was detained by National Directorate of Security (NDS) forces after downloading and giving to friends an article that said the Prophet Mohammed ignored women’s rights, according to Samander and Reuters. He is also accused of possessing anti-Islamic books and starting un-Islamic debates in his classes. While Kambakhsh admits to circulating the article, he denies the accusations of blasphemy, which is punishable by death under Islamic law, Samander said.
Ibrahimi's employer, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, has more on this story. Ironically, Ibrahimi co-wrote an article for IWPR published this past December, which made the case that 2007 was "the worst year so far for Afghan journalists, say media watchers":
Afghanistan’s media have enjoyed remarkable degree of freedom over the past six years, making this one of the most visible achievements of the post-Taleban era,. But increasingly, as security deteriorates and the public mood sours, media outlets are coming under pressure from government and other powerful elites.
In addition to intimidation and assault, reporters face obstruction from officials who routinely deny them access to information, in clear violation of the law.
Unfortunately, as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has documented, this is not the first time that someone has been charged with apostasy or blasphemy in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Under the terms of that country's 2004 constitution, Islamic Sharia courts are empowered to enforce both strictures. This is nothing short of a barbarous holdover from the days of the Taliban. It literally punishes free expression with death and gives corrupt, brutal officials a tool with which to silence their critics. It is a worrisome sign of the hold that Islamist sentiments still have in that country.