New York, January 14, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is greatly concerned by the detention and upcoming trial of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh in Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh province, northern Afghanistan. The 23-year-old journalism student and brother of prominent journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi will be tried in a religious Islamic court on charges of blasphemy, according to Rahimullah Samander, head of the Afghan Independent Journalists Association and the Committee to Protect Afghan Journalists. The court has already issued a statement recommending that Kambakhsh receive the death sentence, Samander said.
Ibrahimi, Kambakhsh’s brother, has been the focus of escalating pressure over sensitive reports he has written criticizing local officials and warlords, according to his employer, the Institute of War and Peace Reporting. It and other Afghan sources say they fear that the charges against Kambakhsh are a pretext meant to stop his brother from reporting.
“We are deeply concerned by reports that Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh is being threatened with the death penalty under Sharia law as a pretext to intimidate his brother and fellow journalist from reporting on matters that embarrass powerful political interests,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the authorities to drop all charges against him immediately.”
Kambakhsh was arrested on October 27 for distributing what official said was anti-Islamic literature. A journalism student at Balkh University, Kambakhsh also reports for the local daily Jahan-e-Naw. He was detained by National Directorate of Security (NDS) forces after downloading and giving to friends an article that said the Prophet Mohammed ignored women’s rights, according to Samander and Reuters. He is also accused of possessing anti-Islamic books and starting un-Islamic debates in his classes. While Kambakhsh admits to circulating the article, he denies the accusations of blasphemy, which is punishable by death under Islamic law, Samander said.
Ibrahimi’s office was sealed and his rooms searched by NDS officers at the time of Kambakhsh’s arrest, according to the institute. He has previously received anonymous death threats by phone and online as well as a visit from NDS officers at home, according to a statement from the institute.
Journalists gathered in Mazar-i-Sharif on Saturday to publicly protest his detention and to demand his release, Reuters reported.