Thursday, January 31, 2008

Kambakhsh Update

Further details have emerged in the case of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, the Afghan journalism student sentenced to death for blasphemy. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) quotes Kambakhsh testifying that he was coerced into confessing to his "crime":

“I was held in a small room which was very dirty,” he told IWPR. “I was held in that room for eight days, and the security guys were constantly coming to see me. They interrogated me several times a day, and told me they were going to hang me. They told me to prepare myself for death.

“I had no contact with my family, and I was under a lot of psychological pressure. On the eighth day, the NDS officer came with a piece of paper in his hand. He told me to write that I had downloaded the document from the internet and that I had added several sentences to it. They told me that if I wrote this, they would release me.”

Kambakhsh's uncle, Sayed Yasin Peroz, has also gone on the record as saying that the trial was rigged against his nephew.

Kambakhsh's brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, is a journalist who works for IWPR. He is convinced that this case was brought as punishment for his candid reporting on the abuses of local warlords. According to IWPR, his suspicions are more than justified:

Rahimullah Samander, head of the Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association, corroborates Ibrahimi’s assessment.

“When [Kaambakhsh] was arrested, IWPR’s offices in Mazar were searched by the NDS, and [Ibrahimi’s] notebooks were taken, which contained contact numbers for the sources in his stories,” he said. “This clearly indicates that the government’s problem was with Yaqub Ibrahimi, not with Parwez Kaambakhsh. But they could not arrest Yaqub. This was a good way of pressuring Yaqub and his family.”

If additional proof were needed, added Samander, one need only consider the position taken by religious scholars around the country. The Ulema or clerical councils of Balkh and Kunduz provinces have issued condemnations of Kaambakhsh. Others have remained silent.

“Why have only the Ulema in Balkh and Kunduz been provoked?” he asked. “It is all due to jihadi [faction] connections. The judges and the prosecutors of Balkh all belong to a specific party, and the administration up there is a dictatorship that abuses its religious and governmental power.”

Unfortunately, the central government of President Hamid Karzai is still too weak to rein in the local authorities in places like Balkh. The only answer is to mount enough external pressure to force Karzai to intervene on Kambakhsh's behalf. The Committee to Protect Journalists has already issued an open letter asking him to ensure that the appeals process remains "free of influences outside the jurisdiction of the courts." An even more encouraging sign was a small demonstration in Kabul demanding that Kambakhsh be freed.

In stark contrast to such positive developments, Afghanistan's senate has released a statement supporting Kambakhsh's death sentence and condemning internal and external critics of his prosecution. Still, as IWPR points out, it seems that few officials are truly eager to see the sentence carried out. This offers some cause for hope.

There is, of course, one major exception to this reluctance:

About the only ones calling for Kaambakhsh’s death are the Taleban, who carried a virulent attack on the young man on their website,

Condemning Kaambakhsh’s “dirty statement,” the Taleban called on “jihadi and brave Afghans to administer severe chastisement to the perpetrator of this action.”


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