Wednesday, January 16, 2008

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.

(Emphasis added-DD)

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just stumbled upon your blog and couldn't resist sharing with you how amused I am finding you supporting freedom of expression for Afghan journalist Parwez kambakhsh. In view of your diatribes against the left or the liberals in this country.. I guess as long as the jailed journalists have spoken out against muslim doctrine and not against the US, you support their release.
But, it's a start. We actually have something in common.
As a member of AIUSA, I suggest you check out the work we do on behalf of people like Parwez, not because of what he rails against,but because we believe he should be able to express whatever beliefs, as long as they do incite others to using violence. I wonder if i can count on your support if next time someone there gets jailed for speaking out against the US forces private jails. or will you conveniently sweep it under the carpet as blatant lies?
And for your information, the Taleban has been heavily criticized by Amnesty International if you care to track our reports.

12:40 AM  
Anonymous USpace said...

No one in the USA has been put in jail for speaking out against Bush and you know that. Afghanistan shouldn't put Bush haters who speak out against Bush in prison either.

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
your culture is the BEST

hanging people for reading
is quite a quaint tradition

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
NO cultures are barbaric

cultures may not mature
and learn to become more just

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
cultures may never improve

they must stay primitive
that is something to cherish

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
your culture is supreme

you must KILL all writers
who expose its many failings

2:29 AM  

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