UN opposes Afghan death sentence
BBC News / Thursday, 24 January 2008
The UN in Afghanistan has criticised a court’s decision to sentence a journalist to death for blasphemy.
The UN mission said the reporter, Perwiz Kambakhsh, did not have legal representation – which was a possible misuse of the judicial process.
It has called for a review of Kambaksh’s conviction for distributing an article that criticised Islam.
He was arrested in 2007 after downloading material relating to the role of women in Islamic societies.
The UN said that the court in the northern province of Balkh handled the case in a closed session on Tuesday and that 23-year-old Kambakhsh had no representation.
This, and warnings to journalists who may support him, “point to possible misuse of the judicial process”, the mission said in a statement.
“We urge a proper and complete review of this case as it goes through the appeals process,” it said.
The court sentenced Kambakhsh to death after finding he had insulted Islam by distributing articles downloaded from the internet that question the Koran.
The Afghan information ministry said on Thursday that the sentence was not final and the case would be handled “very carefully”.
“But his arrest and sentence given to him has not been in relation with his journalistic activities and thus has no connection with the work of this ministry,” it said.
The Institute for War and Peace Reporting told the BBC it believed Kambakhsh may have been targeted because his brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, a staff reporter for the institute, had written articles that criticised local strongmen.
“We feel very strongly that this is a complete fabrication on the part of the authorities… designed to put pressure on Perwiz’s brother Yaqub, who has done some of the hardest-hitting pieces outlining abuses by some very powerful commanders in Balkh and the other northern provinces,” the institute’s country director Jean MacKenzie said.
Kambakhsh is a student at Balkh University and a journalist for Jahan-e Naw (New World).
The sentence has been welcomed by conservative Islamic clerics in Afghanistan but criticised by international human rights groups.
Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said it was “deeply shocked” by the trial and appealed to President Hamid Karzai to intervene “before it is too late”.