CPJ condemns Afghan’s death sentence

New York, January 23, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is appalled by the death sentence given to a young journalist by a court in northern Afghanistan yesterday. The court in Balkh province sentenced 23-year-old Parwez Kambakhsh in a closed-door trial without a defense attorney present, according to local press freedom advocate Rahimullah Samander, president of the Afghan Independent Journalists Association and the Committee to Protect Afghan Journalists.   

Influential Islamic clerics recommended that Kambakhsh face the death penalty shortly after his arrest on October 27. The Balkh University journalism student and reporter for local daily Jahan-e-Naw was arrested for distributing anti-Islamic literature after downloading an article from the Internet and giving it to friends, Samander told CPJ. The article discussed the Koran and the rights of women in Islam, according to Reuters and Agence France-Presse. Kambakhsh will appeal the sentence, Agence France-Presse reported.

“That a journalist should face execution is an utter disgrace to any democratic nation,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We join with our colleagues in Afghanistan in condemnation of Kambakhsh’s arrest, the conduct of his trial, and the shocking severity of his sentence. We urge President Karzai to press for his immediate release.”

Reports conflicted as to whether the charges against Kambakhsh were related to his possible authorship of the article, or simply to the fact he passed it around. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting, where Kambakhsh’s brother, Yaqub Ibrahimi, is a journalist, reported yesterday that Kambakhsh denies that he either wrote or distributed the story. Calls to Ibrahimi went unanswered today.

Kambakhsh’s supporters say they fear that he faces retribution from politically dominant conservative religious forces in the province for controversial reporting by his brother. The Council of Religious Scholars renewed their calls for his execution on January 14 after local journalists protested against his arrest. Balkh Deputy Attorney General Hafizullah Khaliqyar threatened to arrest journalists who supported Kambakhsh in a media briefing on Monday, Agence France-Presse reported.

A provincial council of elected representatives appealed for Kambakhsh’s released after meeting with the student on January 6, according to Samander. Yet their recommendations lack the weight of those of the religious council, he said.  

Samander said journalists in his association have vowed to continue their support for Kambakhsh, despite the threats.

CPJ called on President Karzai to protect Kambakhsh and the Afghan media in a letter on January 17.