Afghanistan - Mullahs call for death penalty for young journalist held for past three months

    MONTREAL, Jan. 17 /CNW/ - Reporters Without Borders is very worried about
the pressure being placed on the authorities by conservative religious leaders
in the case of Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a young journalist in the northern
province of Balkh who has been detained since late October on charges of
blasphemy and defaming Islam. The Council of Mullahs says he should be
sentenced to death.
    "The calls for the death penalty for Kambakhsh highlight the growing
influence of fundamentalist groups on intellectual debate," the organisation
said. "The blasphemy charges are an ill-disguised attempt to hide the desire
of the local authorities to restrict press freedom."
    A reporter for the newspaper Jahan-e Naw ("The New World") and a
journalism student at Balkh university, Kambakhsh, 23, was arrested on
27 October. Articles on the role of women in Muslim society were found at his
    His brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, also a journalist, told Reporters
Without Borders his arrest was illegal. "Any case involving the press should
be heard first by the Media Evaluation Commission before going to the courts,"
he said. "Furthermore, the prosecutor only referred the case to the courts
after the Council of Mullahs said he should be sentenced to death for
insulting holy texts."
    Journalists in Balkh province finally revealed that Kambakhsh was being
detained after the failure of attempts to obtain his release through
negotiation. They wrote to President Hamid Karzai calling for his release. Two
days later, the Council of Mullahs warned the authorities against releasing
    Reporters Without Borders is also very concerned about Ghows Zalmay, a
former journalist and attorney-general's spokesman, who is being held for
publishing a translation of the Koran into Dari. He was arrested in early
November after conservative religious leaders said the translation was
"un-Islamic" and misinterpreted verses about adultery and begging.
Parliamentarians have even accused him of being "worse than Salman Rushdie."
    Afghan journalists are exposed to threats and harassment from religious
fundamentalists who try to prevent any debate about Islam and the status of
women. The authorities often violate freedom of expression on the grounds of
protecting the Islamic nature of Afghan society.
    Reporters Without Borders appeals to the international community to
intercede with the Afghan government and seek the release of Kambakhsh and

For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)

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