Friday, April 18, 2008

Kambakhsh's appeal: hope for condemned journalist

Bloomberg carries a bit of good news:

Condemned Afghan Journalist Wins Right to Appeal Death Sentence

April 16 (Bloomberg) - A young Afghan journalist, sentenced to death in January for spreading feminist criticism of Islam, has been granted an appeal, according to one of the international organizations monitoring his case.

The writer, Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, 23, was transferred on March 28 from prison in the remote province of Balkh, in northern Afghanistan, to the capital, Kabul, according to Jean MacKenzie, program director in Afghanistan for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting. The London-based Institute is an international advocate for press freedom.

The move, Mackenzie said in a telephone interview, was accompanied by promises from officials in the government of President Hamid Karzai that Kambakhsh would be freed.

MacKenzie credited international protests in the wake of the death sentence as a key factor in getting Kambakhsh out of the control of regional religious and secular authorities. She also said that within Afghanistan, protests in several cities organized by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), a banned group, had made local citizens aware of the case.

"There is a belief that the charges were trumped up as a political move," MacKenzie said. She added that Kambakhsh and his brother, also a journalist, had been outspoken about the rise of warlords in the north and the breakdown of centralized government authority. ...

On Jan. 31 Kabul demonstrators, organized by RAWA, marched in support of Kambakhsh, shouting "Long live democracy!" and demanding his release, ending up in front of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan.

"This case is not an anomaly," MacKenzie said. "It is symptomatic of what is happening in Afghanistan, the weakening of power at the center and the rise of local powerbrokers.

"It's entirely possible that if things continue this way," she continued, "Afghan society will not look that different from the way it was under the Taliban." (link)
The Independent (UK) quotes Kambakhsh's brother, Ibrahimi, who was arguably the indirect target of Kambakhsh's arrest. Ibrahimi is a journalist with a tendency to criticize the government:
"It is a warning to the whole of the Afghan people. The Afghan judiciary shouldn't have the ability to pass the death sentence. The whole system is corrupted... Lots of people are facing the death penalty for no reason.

"Maybe there are people who should face the death penalty, but they are in power, in government. The people on death row are the people who could not pay enough to get out." ... (link)

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