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Afghan Press Freedom Threatened

A court in Mazar-e-Sharif, capital of Afghanistan’s Balkh province, has sentenced twenty-three-year-old Sayed Parvez Kambakhsh to death for what it called “blasphemy.” Mr. Kambakhsh, a student at Balkh University and a journalist with the Jahan-e Naw newspaper, was arrested in October after downloading an article on the internet concerning women in Muslim societies.

Rahimullah Samandar is president the Afghanistan’s Independent Journalist Association. He says Mr. Kambakhsh did not write the article in question:

“In fact, Mr. Parvez Kambakhsh just copied the article entitled ‘Anti-women verses in the Koran,’ read it, and gave copies to his classmates. When he was arrested, the prosecutor thought he was the author, but later it was proved that he only distributed it.”

Speaking for the Afghanistan’s Independent Journalist Association, Mr. Samandar said, “We will appeal to other courts. We will appeal to the international community, to international media organizations, and also to the Afghan president and the Afghan parliament to help us.”

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting is a non-governmental organization that trains journalists in conflict-torn areas. The institute’s Jean MacKenzi says, “We feel very strongly that this is a complete fabrication on the part of the authorities up in Mazar, designed to put pressure on Parvez’s brother Yaqub, who has done some of the hardest hitting pieces outlining the abuses by some very powerful commanders in Balkh and the other northern provinces.”

Reporters Without Borders issued a statement saying the proceedings against Parvez Kambakhsh were “carried out in haste and without any concern for the law or free expression, which is protected by the [Afghan] constitution.” In an open letter to Afghan president Hamid Karzai, the Committee to Protect Journalists warned, “as Afghanistan gears up for presidential and parliamentary elections in 2009, it is more important than ever to promote a professional media industry, free from threat of reprisal and content restriction on religious or any other grounds.”

As U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “liberty and human rights require state institutions that function transparently and accountably, a vibrant civil society, an independent judiciary and legislature, a free media, and security forces that can uphold the rule of law and protect the population from violence and extremism.”