New York, February 6, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists cautiously welcomes signs today that the authorities in Afghanistan are responding to pressure to commute the death sentence young journalist Parwez Kambakhsh faces for alleged blasphemy.
Afghanistan’s Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak told journalists in Estonia today, “The process is not over yet. I doubt he will be executed,” according to Agence France-Presse. Najib Manalai, a senior adviser in Afghanistan’s Culture Ministry is also quoted in British newspaper The Independent saying, “I am not worried for his life.”
Kambakhsh’s brother Yaqub Ibrahimi, a prominent reporter, told CPJ that he and his family remained concerned and that messages from the Afghan authorities were conflicting. “It’s good news, and we are hopeful about these expressions,” he told CPJ in a telephone interview today. “But Parwez Kambakhsh is still in jail and still sentenced to death. Legally, nothing has changed.”
Ibrahimi told CPJ that groups of influential clerics in Afghanistan are still publicly endorsing the death sentence, which was related to an article Kambakhsh was accused of distributing in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh province, where he is a student and part-time journalist. Kambakhsh denies the charge.
“While we welcome statements that begin to counter Kambakhsh’s death sentence, his life is still in the balance,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We repeat our call to President Karzai to have the case transferred immediately to Kabul and expedited through the appeals process so that he can be officially exculpated.”
Local and international pressure on the Afghan government to release the journalist remains strong. Rahimullah Samander, president of the Afghan Independent Journalists Association told CPJ he had attended an informal lunch meeting with Karzai and other journalists today, outlining the case and defending Kambakhsh’s innocence. He described the president’s response as “very positive and helpful,” but reported no concrete promises by the president to intervene in the case. CPJ wrote to Karzai calling for his involvement last week.
Presidential spokesman Hamayun Hamidzada said yesterday that Karzai was “concerned” and “watching the situation very closely,” but indicated that the president would not interfere with the judicial process, according to The Associated Press. Kambakhsh, whose sentence was handed down by three judges in a closed trial on January 22, is appealing the sentence with the higher courts.
Calls to Hamidzada were not immediately returned.
The upper house of parliament retracted earlier statements made on January 30 that endorsed the death sentence given by the Balkh province primary court, calling them a “technical mistake,” the BBC reported last week.
Several local journalists have agreed not to report further statements by provincial Islamic councils, Samander said today, for fear of contributing further to the wave of public
commentary that risked prejudicing the legal process.