Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Blasphemy and Barbarism

Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, the Afghan journalism student arrested for possessing an article critical of Islam, was convicted by an Afghan court of the charge of blasphemy and sentenced to death. The Associated Press provides some background:

Kambaksh's family and the head of a journalists group denounced the verdict and said Kambaksh was not represented by a lawyer at trial. Members of a clerics council had been pushing for Kambaksh to be punished.

The case now goes to the first of two appeals courts, Wahab said. Kambaksh, who has been jailed since October, will remain in custody during appeal.

Wahab said he did not immediately have the details of the paper that Kambaksh circulated, other than that it was against Islam. Kambaksh discussed the paper with his teacher and classmates at Balkh University and several students complained to the government, Wahab said.

Kambaksh's brother, Yacoubi Brahimi, described Tuesday's proceeding as a "secret trial," saying the family did not know it had been scheduled. Some have accused Kambaksh of writing the paper in question, but Brahimi said that his brother printed it off the Internet.

The article also explains the legal basis for Kambaksh's prosecution:

Rhimullah Samandar, the head of the Kabul-based National Journalists Union of Afghanistan, said Kambaksh had been sentenced to death under Article 130 of the Afghan constitution. That article says that if no law exists regarding an issue than a court's decision should be in accord with Hanafi jurisprudence.

Hanafi is an orthodox school of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence followed in southern and central Asia.


Clerics in Balkh and Kunduz province arranged a demonstration in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif last week against Kambaksh, calling on the government not to release him.

Reporters Sans Frontieres has of course condemned this travesty and appealed to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to intervene on Kambaksh's behalf. Their statement reveals several even more disturbing details:

At a news conference yesterday, Hafizullah Khaliqyar, the deputy provincial prosecutor in charge of the case, threatened to imprison all journalists who support Kambakhsh, adding that “Kambakhsh has confessed to the crime and must be punished.”

Kambakhsh was supposedly arrested because of a controversial article commenting on verses in the Koran about women, although it has now been established that he was not the article’s author. Rahimullah Samandar, the head of the Afghanistan Independent Journalists Association, said he was in fact arrested because of articles written by his brother, Ibrahimi, criticising the provincial authorities.

Believe it or not, I actually agree with the Afghan prosecutor and judges that blasphemy was committed in this case. It's just that they are the ones who are guilty of it. A young man has been sentenced to death because of what he was reading. That is the only blasphemy here.


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