Afghanistan - In shameful decision, Kabul appeal court replaces young journalist's death sentence with 20 years in prison



    MONTREAL, Oct. 21 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders is outraged by
the 20-year prison sentence which a Kabul appeal court passed today on
journalist Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh after quashing the death sentence he
received last January from a court in Mazar-i-Sharif, in the northern province
of Balkh. The Kabul court upheld his conviction on a charge of printing and
distributing blasphemous articles.
    Kambakhsh, 23, described the court's decision as an "injustice." His
lawyer said he would appeal to the supreme court.
    "Afghan justice has again failed to protect Afghan law and guarantee free
expression," Reporters Without Borders said. "By sentencing this young
journalist to imprisonment, the appeal court has eliminated the possibility of
his being executed, but it has also exposed the degree to which some Afghan
judges are susceptible to pressure from fundamentalists. Kambakhsh was able
this time to be represented by a lawyer, but the appeal proceedings were
marred by ideological distortion, a glaring lack of evidence and
incomprehensible delays that ended up undermining the court's serenity."
    The press freedom organisation added: "We would like to express our
support for Kambakhsh, who has already spent a year in prison, for his
brother, Yaqub Ibrahimi, who fought to get him acquitted, and his lawyer,
Mohamad Afzal Nuristani, who has defended the principles of Afghan law."
    Abdul Salam Quazizadeh, the president of the Kabul appeal court, issued
his ruling after several witnesses from Balkh province were questioned earlier
in the day in court by both the prosecution and the defence. Five of
Kambakhsh's former teachers at Balkh university testified that he had asked
questions that were "insulting" towards Islam. But a former fellow student
retracted his earlier accusations, saying the police had pressured him to
incriminate Kambakhsh.
    Kambakhsh's lawyer demonstrated that there was no proof of any blasphemy
towards Islam and that the scant testimony offered by the prosecution as
evidence did not directly concern the charge. Journalists in the courtroom
reported that, before being led away by police, Kambakhsh said: "I do not
accept his decision."
    His lawyer said after the hearing: "This new verdict is an insult to the
idea of justice and the Afghan constitution." His brother said: "The
Mazar-i-Sharif sentence has been overturned but the accusations have been
upheld although they are completely false. The judges have exposed the horror
of the Afghan judicial system to the world. It is clear that the judges
sentenced him on the basis of their personal views, not on the basis of
Islamic laws or the constitution."
    A journalism student at Balkh university and a reporter for the newspaper
Jahan-e-Naw ("New World"), Kambakhsh was arrested in Mazar-i-Sharif on
27 October 2007 on a charge of "blasphemy and distribution of texts defamatory
of Islam." Under pressure from the Council of Mullahs and local officials, the
Mazar-i-Sharif court sentenced him to death in a trial held behind closed
doors and without a defence lawyer on 22 January. Members of the security
forces tortured him to obtain a confession.
    His arrest was thought to have been prompted by the articles his brother,
an investigative journalist, had written about the authorities in the Balkh
region.




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, Executive Director,
Reporters Without Borders Canada, (514) 521-4111, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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