Parwez Kambakhsh

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Security officials detained journalism student Kambakhsh, 23, in northern Balkh province, saying he had distributed anti-Islamic literature in the provincial capital of Mazar-i-Sharif, where he lived with his brother, journalist Yaqub Ibrahimi.

The Balkh University student, who also wrote for local daily Jahan-e-Naw, denied any connection with the article–which he was variously accused of writing, editing, and downloading, according to the Afghan Independent Journalists Association–and which was described in news reports as raising questions about women’s rights under Islam. Kambakhsh later said he believed the charge was trumped up by fellow students, and that security officials tortured him into signing a confession of apostasy in the early days of his detention, according to news reports. Ibrahimi, Kambakhsh’s brother, told CPJ that he was subjected to an intimidation campaign for articles he had written for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting; he said he feared Kambakhsh’s arrest was related to that campaign.

Prominent clerics urged the death penalty for Kambakhsh, which a local three-judge panel handed down in closed session on January 22, 2008. Local journalists protested and the international community launched appeals for his release. Kambakhsh’s supporters succeeded in transferring him to Kabul for an appeal, which was first heard on May 18.

Lawyer Mohammad Afzal Nooristani, director of the Legal Aid Organization of Afghanistan , agreed to represent the journalist; he later received threatening phone calls due to his involvement in the case. In October, a classmate of Kambakhsh called as a prosecution witness told the court that National Directorate of Security officials visited him a few days after Kambakhsh’s arrest. He testified that they threatened to take his family into custody if he did not make a statement against Kambakhsh.

The appellate court upheld the blasphemy sentence that month, but it reduced the death sentence to a 20-year prison term.