Monday, July 14, 2008

Kambakhsh languishes in prison

From the Institute for War and Peace Reporting:

Journalists Demand Justice for Kambakhsh
The appeals process has stalled and there seems to be little political will to ensure a fair outcome.

By Hafizullah Gardesh and Noorrahman Rahmani

KABUL, July 9 (IWPR) - All over Afghanistan, journalists, writers and activists gathered on July 8 to press their government to release Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh.

Kambakhsh, who has been in prison since last October, faces the death penalty for insulting Islam. His alleged crime consists of downloading an internet text critical of Islam’s restrictions on women, adding a few comments of his own, and circulating it at his university.

The 23-year-old journalism student has denied the charges, and has claimed that security officials coerced a confession from him during his first days in detention.

A primary court in Balkh province passed the death sentence in January, and the case is now stalled at the Kabul court of appeal.

The act of solidarity was initiated by journalist unions and writer’s groups in at least 15 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces...

... those close to the case have alleged that witnesses and lawyers have been pressured by the security services.

The last session was adjourned on June 15, with no date set for the resumption of the trial...

Many have see the case as a test of the power of religious conservatism in Afghanistan. Soon after his arrest in October, 2007, Kambakhsh’s case was referred to the provincial Ulema, or Council of Religious Scholars, who demanded the death penalty. While their ruling was not legally binding, it was made so by the primary court in Balkh.

Members of the government have made both public and private promises that the case would be resolved fairly. However, there has been little movement in recent weeks, and Kambakhsh’s defenders are struggling to retain hope of a speedy release... (link)
Here's their dispatch following Kambakhsh's fourth appearance in court in Kabul about a month ago:
Saving Parwez Kambakhsh
By Jean MacKenzie

KABUL, June 16 (IWPR) - A subdued, anxious crowd filled the courtroom of the Kabul Appeal Court on June 15 for the latest installment in the case of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, the Afghan journalism student facing a death sentence for blasphemy.

There was little evidence of the international media in the courtroom, and the few foreign diplomats present sat quietly, some conferring with the defence from time to time.

The lack of a strong international presence could be bad news for Kambakhsh. Several sources close to the case have said international attention is the only thing sustaining his appeal...

Presiding judge Abdul Salam Qazizada has weathered several Afghan administrations. He is a holdover from the Taleban regime, and his antagonism to the defendant was visible...

For the fourth time in the past 30 days, the case was adjourned without a decision.

During the session, Qazizada appeared to take on the role of prosecutor rather than impartial judge, engaging in a legal duel with defence attorney Mohammad Afzal Nooristani. Lacking a gavel, he repeatedly banged his pen against his microphone in an effort to halt Nooristani’s defence of his client.

Time and again the judge attacked Kambakhsh, who sat pale but composed in the defendant’s chair.

“Just tell me why you did these things,” insisted Qazizada. “What were your motives?”

“I cannot give you reasons, since I did not do anything,” responded Kambakhsh...

Kambakhsh has consistently denied downloading or handing out the article, still less writing any part of the offending text...

A previous session, on June 1, ended with a defence motion to have Kambakhsh examined for signs of physical trauma.

The results from the department of forensic medicine were inconclusive. In findings read out on June 15, doctors stated that while Kambakhsh’s nose showed a slight deviation, it could be a congenital defect as well as evidence of injury. No pathology was found in the left hand, but, according to the statement, there had been ample time for any injury to heal in the seven months since the beating was alleged to have taken place.

This session was the first time the defence had been allowed to read out a statement rebutting the charges against Kambakhsh...

The court was also presented with a long list of Kambakhsh’s alleged failings, such as that he was a socialist, impolite, and asked too many questions in class. He was also accused of having swapped off-colour jokes with friends via text messaging on his mobile phone...

The court finally adjourned in order to summon witnesses from Balkh province, whose written testimony provided the body of the case. No date has been set for the next session...

Karzai has made public assurances that “justice will be done” but so far has not openly intervened in the case... (link)

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