Mounting criticism of young journalist’s death sentence

Mounting criticism of young journalist’s death sentence

Reporters Without Borders appeals to President Hamid Karzai,
currently attending the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of
Davos, to quickly respond to the many appeals for clemency for Sayed
Perwiz Kambakhsh, the young journalist who has been sentenced to death
by a court in Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of the northern province of
Balkh.

“Kambakhsh’s death sentence was the outcome of an
unfair trial orchestrated by local officials and extremist religious
leaders,” the organisation said. “We urge President Karzai to take a
swift and clear decision in this case, which threatens press freedom in
his country.”

A petition for Kambakhsh’s release can be signed on the Reporters Without Borders website at: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=25199

The
United Nations, many European countries and the European parliament’s
president have all condemned Kambakhsh’s arrest and death sentence.

Balkh
provincial state prosecutor Hafizullah Khaliqyar has nonetheless
dismissed the charges that the court violated human rights and press
freedom, insisting that the verdict was given “in accordance with
Islam’s values.”

The case is now supposed to go before an appeal
court, but Balkh provincial judge Fazel Wahab said “only President
Hamid Karzai is in a position to pardon Kambakhsh because he confessed
to his crime.”

Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, Kambakhsh’s brother, said
the verdict was “unjust.” Kambakhsh was not represented by a lawyer and
was forbidden to defend himself. It appears that Ibrahimi is the real
target in this case. A respected journalist who has covered the
political situation in the north for International War and Peace
Reporting, an NGO, he has been getting death threats for months from
the sidekicks of local officials and the security forces have searched
his home several times, warning him of more reprisals to come.

The
culture and information ministry said it had no authority over the case
because “neither Kambakhsh’s arrest or conviction was linked to his
journalistic activities” and therefore “it is not a press freedom
violation.” The ministry nonetheless added that it was “confident that
the Afghan judicial system will handle the issue of the death penalty
with the utmost care and will render justice, especially as the lower
court’s sentence is not final.”

Rahimullah Samandar, the head of
the Afghanistan Independent Journalists Association, firmly condemned
the trial and verdict on the grounds that they violated the
constitutional rights to a legal defence and to free speech. He vowed
to appeal to national and international courts, and called on President
Karzai to overturn the verdict.

The French foreign ministry has
expressed outrage at the verdict. “France stresses that it is
completely opposed to the death penalty,” the ministry said. “Freedom
of expression must be guaranteed, respecting the principles and values
enshrined in the Afghan constitution.”

The president of the European parliament called on the Afghan authorities on 18 January to release Kambakhsh.

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