Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hope despite continued press repression

The Independent, which is spearheading an international call to free Afghan journalism student Parwez Kambakhsh, carries an update on the condemned man's situation:

Pervez's move to Kabul may herald his release
By Kim Sengupta, 16 February 2008

Mr Kambaksh has been attacked at his current place of incarceration near Mazar-i-Sharif in the north of the country by fundamentalist inmates at the instigation of the prison guards, his family claim. They also say that he is being held in a small cell that he has to share with 30 others.

But family members said yesterday that they had been told unofficially that the 23-year-old journalism student would be transferred to the Afghan capital in the near future. ...

Relations and friends of Mr Kambaksh are worried that he remains in danger as long as he is kept in his current jail. They believe that, as worldwide protests over the case keep growing and the lobbying of President Karzai by public figures continues, the student may fall victim to a convenient "accident".

A member of Mr Kambaksh's family said: "He is being kept by the same people who wish him dead. They have total power in that part of the country and we really fear that anything can happen. The people who put him in prison are very angry about all the international attention this has raised. They can say that he was attacked by a fellow prisoner, or they can even say that he tried to escape. How can anyone disprove something like that? ...

Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, Mr Kambaksh's brother, is also a journalist and has written articles exposing abuse, including murder, by powerful political figures. The family feel that one reason Mr Kambaksh was arrested was to put pressure on Yaqub, who is himself now in hiding. "We hope that the same pressure which is helping to save Pervez can protect Yaqub as well," said the family member. ... (link)
(See earlier blog entries about Perwez Kambakhsh here and here.)

Meanwhile, other journalists still face repression at the hands of our allies, though the Canadian media choose to ignore the trend. The Independent recently ran an update on Ghowz Zalmai, who is imprisoned without charge by Afghan authorities for his involvement in publishing a translation of the Koran. (We've blogged about him - here and here.) The Independent notes that despite pressure from expatriate Afghans, "there has been no interest in his case expressed by Western governments". Excerpts:
Mr Zalmai's journalist colleagues claim that the Attorney General himself, Zabar Sabit, an overly religious man, played a significant role in Mr Zalmai's arrest. Mr Sabit is widely regarded as sympathetic towards the Taliban; some say he is proving his credentials because he is waiting for the Taliban's return to power. Mr Zalmai and his friend are accused of distributing a Koran which consists of "mistakes" and "misconceptions". ...

He has been imprisoned without any formal charges and has been given no access to a lawyer. Whether belonging to the wrong ethnic class – being a member of a well-known Sufi order – or because he was regarded as a liberal, Western-thinking intellectual, Mr Zalmai is paying for a crime he has not committed. ... (link)
As well, the same paper reports that a friend of Parwez who is also a fellow journalist has fled Afghanistan in fear for his life:
Friend of Pervez flees extremists in Afghanistan

The Independent
By Jerome Starkey in Kabul

A journalist friend of the condemned student Sayed Pervez Kambaksh has fled Afghanistan fearing for his life, after an extremist mob threatened to kill him.

Yahya Najafizada escaped halfway across the world when his name appeared on a blacklist of alleged heretics. The list was compiled by hardline sharia students in Mazar-e Sharif, just days after Pervez was arrested for circulating an article about women's rights.

The university students, backed by the local Ulema, or religious council, published the blacklist after a frenzied demonstration demanding Pervez, 23, face the death penalty. ...

But vigilante gangs twice threatened Yahya's home in the centre of the provincial capital, where he used to meet Pervez to discuss civil rights and freedom of speech: "If I didn't leave Afghanistan, they could do with me what they did with Pervez, and other democracy campaigners," Yahya said. ...

"They held a demonstration against us and after demonstrations they made the blacklist. It was a list of journalists, poets and students of Balkh University. Most of them critical of government. ...

"I don't trust the police to protect me," he said. "Fundamentalists are working in high places in the Afghan government and police. They are against democracy and human rights in Afghanistan."

Yahya was working for a Nato-owned newspaper called Voice of Freedom. But even his international paymasters offered him no protection from the religious wing. "It is difficult for ISAF [the International Security Assistance Force] to deal with the extremists who are the majority of Afghan People about this issue. I spoke with my supervisors and the people who are working for ISAF security, but they didn't promise to protect me." ... (link)
Recall also that the Committee to Protect Journalists recently wrote to President Karzai to express its concern that "media policy is increasingly aimed at hampering journalists".

No comments: