Sunday, May 4, 2008

Injustice and repression in Afghanistan

Associated Press reports:

Raped and then jailed: despite advances for Afghan women, old habits compound their misery
By Alisa Tang

KABUL, April 30 (AP) - Trafficked across the border from Pakistan with her 3-year-old son, Rukhma was handed to an Afghan who raped and abused her, then beat the toddler to death as she watched helplessly.

He was jailed for 20 years for murder, but Rukhma ended up in prison too. ...

The chief prosecutor of eastern Nangarhar province who oversaw Rukhma's case suggested she got off lightly.

"If my wife goes to the bazaar without my permission, I will kill her. This is our culture," Abdul Qayum shouted scornfully during an interview in his office in the city of Jalalabad.

His colleagues laughed approvingly. "This is Afghanistan, not America," Qayum said.

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission registered 2,374 cases of women complaining of violence in 2007, compared with 1,651 in 2006 — a sign that more are seeking help. ...

Kamala Janakiram, a U.N. human rights officer in eastern Afghanistan, said that in 70 to 80 percent of the cases she has seen, a woman complaining of domestic violence is charged as a criminal for running away from home. ... (link)
Meanwhile, watchdogs are warning of increased pressures on the freedom of the press:
Press freedom in Afghanistan getting worse: CPJ

UNITED NATIONS, May 1 (Pajhwok) - The freedom of press, which initially improved in the first few years of the post-Taliban era, is now getting worse the head of the Committee to Protect Journalists have said.

"It improved, and now it is getting worse," CPJ Executive Director, Joel Simon, told Pajhwok Afghan News in an interview after releasing its first ever Impunity Index. ...

Journalists in Afghanistan, Simon said operate under extreme tough conditions. The regional warlords set the limits of free expression, he said. "It is more open in Kabul, but even in Kabul there are journalists who are under lot of pressure from religious groups and also there is a limited economic means," he said. ... (link)
Pervez Kambakhsh, familiar to readers, is the most famous journalist under threat in Afghanistan. Here's the Independent's update on his case:
More than 100,000 sign petition to save journalist held in Afghanistan

... Last night, Mr Kambaksh's brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, thanked The Independent's army of readers around the world. "If it wasn't for the petition we would be alone. There are a lot of pressures inside Afghanistan from the fundamentalists. They are trying to execute my brother," he said. "Fortunately, against them, there is pressure from the international community, and The Independent petition. I really believe it will help us."

Mr Kambaksh was recently moved to Kabul's notorious Pol-i Charki prison, where last year guards dragged 15 men out of their cells, without warning, and executed them. The prison holds Afghanistan's worst criminals, but Mr Kambaksh was moved there at his own request, after fears about his safety in Mazar.

Originally he was in a cell with convicted murderers who attacked him because they believed he had offended Islam. He is currently being held in isolation.

"Everything is going very slowly," said Mr Ibrahimi. "We are both looking forward to the time of the appeal, but the judiciary hasn't given us an exact time. Everything is done, but my brother is still in prison."

The students from Balkh University's Sharia faculty, in Mazar, also circulated a blacklist of other journalists they accused of blasphemy, forcing friends of Mr Kambaksh to flee.

Fears over his fate have remained high, after the Supreme Court approved 100 death sentences, which are simply awaiting the President's signature. A moratorium on capital punishment ended last year when President Karzai ordered a mass execution. (link)
In related news, US authorities finally released an Al-Jazeera videographer whom they had held at Guantanamo Bay for six years without charge:
US releases al-Jazeera cameraman

May 02 2008

An al-Jazeera cameraman detained by American forces in Afghanistan was last night released after spending nearly six years imprisoned without charge at Guantánamo Bay.

Sami al-Haj, 39, was arrested on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan on December 15 2001, while on assignment to cover the war against the Taliban. Although he had a valid visa to work in Afghanistan, US intelligence alleged that he was an al-Qaida operative ...

The US military alleged that Haj had secretly interviewed Osama bin Laden, smuggled guns for al-Qaida and worked as a financial courier for Chechen rebels. But the evidence against him was never revealed, and he was never charged.

Prior to his release, Haj had been on hunger strike since January 2007, and was forced to undergo "assisted feeding" via a tube through his nose. According to [Haj's lawyer] he was suicidal and had throat cancer, but camp authorities withheld medical treatment. ... (link)
  • More on Kambakhsh here and sign the petition here.
  • More on limitations on press freedom here and here.

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