IFJ Condemns Afghan Death Sentence Against Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists has sent a letter of protest to the President of Afghanistan, Mr. Hamid Karzai, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, the Afghan Ambassador to Australia, Mr. H. Mahmoud Saikal, and Martin Hadlow, Director of Office UNESCO Mission, Kabul, voicing its concern over death sentencing of Sayeed Mirhassan Mahdawi, chief editor of the Aftaab and Ali Payam, deputy editor.


The IFJ has also written to UNHCR in Islamabad and Geneva seeking their protection for these two journalists.


The IFJ has protested to the President of Afghanistan Mr Hamid Karzai in the following letter:


11 August, 2003


H.E. Hamid Karzai

President

Islamic Republic of Afghanistan


Your Excellency,


The International Federation of Journalists, the global organisation of journalists representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, is deeply concerned after a department of the Afghan Supreme Court reccomended a death penalty verdict against Sayeed Mirhassan Mahdawi, chief editor of Aftaab, and Ali Payam, deputy editor, in absentia.


According to our information, the highest court in Afghanistan, the Supreme Court, ordered the fatwa department - which employs Shariat Law and examines religious issues- to look into the Aftaab case after protests by religious students in Kabul targeting the Aftaab paper.


On July 17, the members of the fatwa department signed the ten page decision requesting the death sentences, which was approved by Supreme Court president Maulavi Fazl-e Hadi Shinwari and sent to the Kabul city court, which is considering framing charges against Mahdawi and Payam.


The decision gives detailed citations from the Koran and the hadiths to support its ruling and quotes from the two articles that criticised Islamic practices. The proposal ends with the declaration, " The Islamic Transitional Government of Afghanistan is obliged to give the death penalty to the people who have abused or made fun of Islam, and also to the ones who cause public disruption."


The decision appears to be an attempt by the Supreme Court to override an earlier decision to defer the case to the lower courts. We understand Your Exellency had previously ordered the case to be reviewed by a commission on journalists' rights within the ministry of information and culture with no sentencing until it gives its report.


The IFJ requests that the Government of Afghanistan intervene to have the charges dismissed and to diffuse the tense situation that has led journalists to fear for their lives.

The IFJ respectfully reminds the Government of Afghanistan that there are no provisions for the Fatwa department to hold the power, based on article 102 of the 1964 constitution which states that only the courts can dispense justice.


The IFJ calls upon the Government of Afghanistan to refuse to implement the death sentences and to review its laws on blasphemy that are obstructing freedom of expression and creating a climate of fear among journalists.


The IFJ calls on the Government of Afghanistan to remember the vital importance of a free press in building democracy and to ensure the safety of all journalists to carry out their work in Afghanistan.


Yours Sincerely,


Christopher Warren

IFJ President

cc. Dr Abdullah Abdullah

Minister for Foreign Affairs

Email: contact@afghanistan-mfa.net


cc. H.E Mahmoud Saikal

Ambassador

Embassy of Afghanistan in Canberra

Email: admin@afghanembassy.net

Fax: (+61-2) 6282 7322


Recommended action:

Send appeals:

  • Condemning the death sentence of Mahdawi and Payam.

  • Calling on the Government to protest the death sentences and ensure the safety of Mahdawi and Payam and their families.

  • Calling on the Government of Afghanistan to refuse to implement the death sentnece to and to review its laws on blasphemy.


  • Appeals:

    Mr. Hamid Karzai

    President

    cc. Dr Abdullah Abdullah

    Minister for Foreign Affairs

    Email: contact@afghanistan-mfa.net


    cc. H.E Mahmoud Saikal

    Ambassador

    Embassy of Afghanistan in Canberra

    Email: admin@afghanembassy.net

    Fax: (+61-2) 6282 7322


    Please copy appeals to the IFJ Asia Office at ifj-asia@alliance.org.au


    For more information contact Jacqui Park at ifj-asia@alliance.org.au