Afghan Journalist Kambakhsh Freed with Presidential Pardon

The International Federation

of Journalists (IFJ) warmly welcomes an official pardon from Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai for

a young Afghan journalist sentenced to 20 years’ jail on charges of blasphemy.

 

Sayed Parvez Kambakhsh, 24, was pardoned, freed from imprisonment and is

now in exile in Europe, Reporters Without

Borders reported on September 7.

 

“Kambakhsh’s pardon and release from prison is a rare victory for

journalists, media workers and press freedom advocates who remain constrained

by the authority of clerical powers to overrule Afghanistan’s constitutionally

guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and the press,” IFJ General

Secretary Aidan White said.

 

“While we celebrate Kambakhsh’s freedom, the IFJ urges all press freedom

advocates to continue to call on Afghanistan’s authorities to ensure

that no journalist is imprisoned for conducting inquiries as part of their

professional work.”

 

Kambakhsh was detained on October 27, 2007 in the northern city of Mazhar-e-Sharif for

reported blasphemy against Islam, in reference to materials referring to the

status of women under Islam. At the time, he was a journalist for the daily Janan-e-Naw and a journalism student. He

was accused of distributing written materials containing anti-Islamic

sentiment.

 

On January 22, 2008, the primary court of Afghanistan’s Balkh province sentenced Kambakhsh to death.

The decision was made in a closed session and followed repeated appeals and

protests from Balkh’s

provincial council and the Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association (AIJA),

an IFJ affiliate.

 

The court said its ruling was made on the basis of its judicial

discretion under Article 130 of Afghanistan’s Constitution, which allows for a

judgment to be based on shariah law. However, Article 34 of the Constitution

also defends the right to freedom of expression, in line with the Universal

Declaration of Human Rights.

 

Press freedom groups stressed that the sentencing of

Kambakhsh highlighted a serious malfunction in the application of an

individual’s rights to a fair trial and an appeals process under Afghanistan’s

justice system.

 

The IFJ, AIJA and the international press freedom community launched campaigns

calling on President Karzai to intervene. In February 2008, AIJA and the

Committee to Protect Afghan Journalists (CPAJ) held a meeting with President

Karzai in which he promised to investigate the death sentence, while the IFJ and

its affiliates sent letters requesting intervention.

 

After repeated delays in hearing an appeal, a Kabul appeals court commuted Kambakhsh’s sentence

to 20 years’ imprisonment on October 21, 2008.

 

On March 8, 2009, AIJA reported that the Supreme Court had rejected

Kambakhsh’s appeal against his 20-year sentence. The ruling was made without

the defendant or his lawyer being informed.

 

The IFJ joins AIJA in welcoming Kambakhsh’s release as a step forward in recognising

freedom of expression in accordance with Afghanistan’s Constitution.

 

However, they also point out that this positive action must be followed

up with the unconditional release of former journalist Ahmad Ghows Zelmay and

colleague Qari Mushtaq, who received similar sentences in 2008.

 

Zelmay and Mushtaq were arrested on November 4, 2007 on accusations of

publishing a Dari translation of the Qur’an, a criminal act under Islamic law.

They were sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment on September 13, 2008.

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ

represents over 600,000 journalists in

120 countries worldwide