Afghanistan : Mounting criticism of young journalist's death sentence



    MONTREAL, Jan. 25 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders appeals to
President Hamid Karzai, currently attending the World Economic Forum in the
Swiss resort of Davos, to quickly respond to the many appeals for clemency for
Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, the young journalist who has been sentenced to death
by a court in Mazar-i-Charif, the capital of the northern province of Balkh.
    "Kambakhsh's death sentence was the outcome of an unfair trial
orchestrated by local officials and extremist religious leaders," the
organisation said. "We urge President Karzai to take a swift and clear
decision in this case, which threatens press freedom in his country."
    A petition for Kambakhsh's release can be signed on the Reporters Without
Borders website at:
http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=25199
    The United Nations, many European countries and the European parliament's
president have all condemned Kambakhsh's arrest and death sentence.
    Balkh provincial state prosecutor Hafizullah Khaliqyar has nonetheless
dismissed the charges that the court violated human rights and press freedom,
insisting that the verdict was given "in accordance with Islam's values."
    The case is now supposed to go before an appeal court, but Balkh
provincial judge Fazel Wahab said "only President Hamid Karzai is in a
position to pardon Kambakhsh because he confessed to his crime."
    Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, Kambakhsh's brother, said the verdict was "unjust."
Kambakhsh was not represented by a lawyer and was forbidden to defend himself.
It appears that Ibrahimi is the real target in this case. A respected
journalist who has covered the political situation in the north for
International War and Peace Reporting, an NGO, he has been getting death
threats for months from the sidekicks of local officials and the security
forces have searched his home several times, warning him of more reprisals to
come.
    The culture and information ministry said it had no authority over the
case because "neither Kambakhsh's arrest or conviction was linked to his
journalistic activities" and therefore "it is not a press freedom violation."
The ministry nonetheless added that it was "confident that the Afghan judicial
system will handle the issue of the death penalty with the utmost care and
will render justice, especially as the lower court's sentence is not final."
    Rahimullah Samandar, the head of the Afghanistan Independent Journalists
Association, firmly condemned the trial and verdict on the grounds that they
violated the constitutional rights to a legal defence and to free speech. He
vowed to appeal to national and international courts, and called on President
Karzai to overturn the verdict.
    The French foreign ministry has expressed outrage at the verdict. "France
stresses that it is completely opposed to the death penalty," the ministry
said. "Freedom of expression must be guaranteed, respecting the principles and
values enshrined in the Afghan constitution."
    The president of the European parliament called on the Afghan authorities
on 18 January to release Kambakhsh.




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, Secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4188, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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