Saturday, February 23, 2008

Our extremist allies

Save Pervez update: Recall that Pervez Kambakhsh, a 23 year-old journalism student in northern Afghanistan, has been sentenced to death for the apparent crime of downloading and distributing writings deemed blasphemous by local religious officials. Recall also that knowledgable observers allege that Pervez was targeted in order to silence his brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, who is himself a journalist who has told some uncomfortable truths about Afghanistan. Recall further that the province's deputy prosecutor threatened: "I will arrest any journalist trying to support him after this".

Recently, an Afghan supreme court judge has declared that Pervez' case, if upheld by an appeals court, will be heard by the Supreme Court in Kabul. This makes a reversal of the verdict more likely, say oberservers. (In addition, President Karzai could also intervene and grant a pardon.) There are, however, some other more ominous signs. The LA Times reports:

Afghan student's defenders may doom him
Los Angeles Times 02/19/2008
Bruce Wallace

An international outcry is brewing on behalf of the 23-year-old, condemned to death on blasphemy laws. But protests may increase religious conservatives' resolve to assert their independence. ...

[M]any Afghans also say the mounting international pressure against the death sentence is creating a populist backlash against foreign meddling in the country's justice system. That hostility complicates matters for Karzai, whose room to maneuver is already limited by his deepening unpopularity and the perception that he is a U.S. puppet. ...

The condemned man's brother said pressure on Karzai from foreign governments can be helpful if it remains low-key.

Letters to Karzai and the Supreme Court are fine, Ibrahimi said. But a drumbeat of foreign criticism could further sour public opinion.

"Afghans are an emotional people, and they take decisions emotionally," he said."If there is pressure from outside, and people see it on TV, it will cause a big reaction by fundamentalist groups. Fundamentalist groups want to make an example of this case. They want to shock young Afghans."

The mullahs can turn people against my brother," he said. (link)

Now, compare and contrast the dangers of provoking extremist members of the Afghan government we are supporting with similar dangers regarding our neighbour to the south. The Committee to Protect Journalists recently issued a notice about an Afghan employee of Canadian Television (CTV):

Afghan journalist detained at Bagram Air Base

New York, February 18, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is greatly concerned by the detention of Canadian Television (CTV) journalist Jawed Ahmad by U.S. military forces at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, for almost three months without charge. ...

Siddique [Ahmad's brother] told CPJ that Ahmad said he was called to meet his CTV colleagues at Kandahar airport and then arrested. It is unclear who called him. CTV confirmed that [CTV correspondent Paul] Workman was in Kandahar at the time, but aid that the correspondent had not planned to meet with Ahmad on that day. Ahmad told Siddique that he was being held because the U.S. military believed he had contacts with local Taliban leaders and was in possession of a video of Taliban materials, Siddique said. ...

So, why has this incident only now come to light, after three months in US detention? The Toronto Star has the revealing answer:

[CTV president Robert Hurst] said CTV lawyers and officials have been working daily on Ahmad's case, trying to quietly work back-channel sources rather than cause a major fuss. But the inability to further the case of their Kandahar-based journalist four months after his arrest prompted the decision to go public yesterday in conjunction with the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. ... (link)

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