January 30, 2008
President Hamid Karzai
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
C/o The Embassy of Afghanistan
2341 Wyoming Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
Via facsimile: 202-483-6487
Dear President Karzai:
The Committee to Protect Journalists has been closely monitoring the case of Parwez Kambakhsh, the journalism student who was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges by the provincial court in Balkh province. We are disturbed that the upper house of Afghanistan’s parliament gave their public support to this verdict today, according to The Associated Press and the BBC.
But we are heartened by the January 23 press release of the Ministry of Information and Culture that reaffirmed that the provincial court’s decision in this case was not the final one. We welcome this as a sign that authorities in Afghanistan are also monitoring the case closely and share our concern for allowing Kambakhsh due legal process.
We now urge you to encourage your government to act expeditiously to resolve Kambakhsh’s case as soon as legally possible.
The neutrality of the appeal process is threatened by the high profile of this case. We urge you, in accordance with Afghanistan’s judicial system, to have the case transferred to Kabul to ensure that the trial is free of influences outside the jurisdiction of the courts.
The blasphemy charges against Kambakhsh relate to his alleged downloading and passing to friends an article that discussed the rights of women in Islam. Kambakhsh denies doing either, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Kabul. When the trial took place, it did so in closed session without a defense lawyer present, according to news reports that cited Kambakhsh’s family. We call on you to ensure he is given a proper chance to defend himself publicly in a court, as guaranteed by Afghan law.
Religious scholars twice recommended the death penalty before Kambakhsh was tried in the provincial court in Balkh last week, while another meeting of clerics in the eastern province of Nangarhar endorsed the official verdict on January 26, according to Agence France-Presse. These recommendations must not outweigh the penal code of Afghanistan, which should be used to address Parwez’s alleged crime of damaging Islam.
We appreciate that supporters of the Balkh court’s decision have warned people outside of Afghanistan not to attempt to influence the country’s internal affairs, but it must be made clear that Kambakhsh enjoys huge support from within Afghanistan. Community elders from his home province of Saripul wrote a letter to the Balkh provincial court declaring Kambakhsh to be a good Muslim, according to a communication to CPJ from the Afghan Independent Journalists Association. He also has the support of the elected provincial council in Balkh, the association says. And local journalists continue to support him despite the considerable risk posed by warnings not to do so from the Balkh Deputy Attorney General Hafizullah Khaliqyar, which he gave in a media briefing on January 21.
CPJ joins with those Afghans in their belief that Kambakhsh does not deserve the sentence handed down by the Balkh provincial court. He should be allowed to resume his studies without delay or punishment.
We thank you for your attention to this matter.
The Committee to Protect Journalists