The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today called on its members to join a campaign to urge Afghan President Hamid Karzai to overturn a death sentence handed down to journalist Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh who has been convicted in a hasty and unfair trial of blasphemy for allegedly downloading an article from a Farsi-language web site and distributing it among four friends and for possessing books that contain anti-Islamic sentiment.
“It is shocking and horrifying that a court would hand down a death sentence to a journalist in a trial where he was not even allowed legal representation for his defence,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. “This is an attack on press freedom and due process and we are calling on President Karzai to exercise his presidential powers and intervene to stop this in justice.”
The IFJ has sent a letter to Karzai asking him to overturn the sentence. It is also calling on its members to contact the embassies and foreign ministers in their countries to urge them to intervene in this case.
According to reports from the IFJ’s local affiliates, including the Afghan Independent Journalists Association, Mr. Kambakhsh, a journalism student and reporter for the daily newspaper Jahan-e Naw, was convicted on Tuesday of blasphemy by a religious Islamic court and was not represented by a lawyer at the time of the trial.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Information and Culture said in a statement that Kambakhsh’s case is not a journalistic issue. It also said the decision of the primary court is not final.
“While we are happy that the government has left some room for appeal in the case, we cannot agree that this is not a case about press freedom,” White said. “We will do everything we can to support Sayed.”
The IFJ says that the death sentence for Kambakhsh disregards Afghanistan’s constitution, which says that “freedom of expression shall be inviolable. Every Afghan shall have the right to express thoughts through speech, writing, illustrations as well as other means in accordance with provisions of this constitution.”
“Only by doing this will you assure the people of Afghanistan that you, as their leader, respect, uphold and protect the rights of all citizens regardless of their religious or political beliefs,” White said in his letter.
The IFJ plans to support Kambakhsh’s legal defence in a fight against the conviction.
You can read the IFJ letter here and use it as a template to send your own message to the Afghan Embassy in your country and to your foreign minister urging him or her to express his or her concern to Karzai.
To join an international appeal for Kambakhsh organized by kabulpress.org go to: http://tinyurl.com/2pnthj
The IFJ’s Dutch member Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten (NVJ) has also started a petition at: http://www.villamedia.nl/n/nvj/nieuws/24jan08_petitieafghanistan.shtm
The IFJ is urging journalists to sign one of these petitions or start their own in their country.
For more information contact the IFJ at +32 2 235 2207
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide