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
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
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
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.
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