Afghan reporter accused of blasphemy sentenced to death

January 24, 2008

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (AFP) -- A court in devoutly Islamic Afghanistan has sentenced a local journalist to death for blasphemy, an official and family members said Wednesday.

Perwiz Kambakhsh, 23, was arrested on October 27 for allegedly distributing material he downloaded from the Internet and deemed offensive to Islam among fellow students at northern Balkh University.
""Based on the crimes Perwiz Kambakhsh committed, the primary court yesterday sentenced him to the most serious punishment which is the death penalty,"" Balkh province deputy attorney general Hafizullah Khaliqyar told AFP.
The reporter's family were given an official notice of the penalty by the Balkh primary court Tuesday, his brother and fellow journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi told AFP.
Khaliqyar had threatened Monday to arrest journalists who ""support"" Kambakhsh at a media briefing where officials defended the arrest of the reporter.
""Journalists are supporting Kambakhsh. I will arrest any journalist trying to support him after this,"" he said.
Khaliqyar had earlier said Kambakhsh had ""confessed"" and must be punished.
Ignoring threats, journalists were gathering outside Ibrahimi's house to organize a ""possible"" protest, an AFP correspondent said.
Ibrahimi said the trial was held behind closed doors and without any lawyer defending him.
Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders appealed to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to intervene.
""We are deeply shocked by this trial, carried out in haste and without any concern for the law or for free expression, which is protected by the constitution,"" Reporters Without Borders said.
""Kambakhsh did not do anything to justify his being detained or being given this sentence. We appeal to President Hamid Karzai to intervene before it is too late.""
The group said Kambakhsh was supposedly arrested because of a controversial article commenting on verses in the Kuran about women, although it has now been established that he was not the article's author.
Kambakhsh was a reporter for the newspaper Jahan-e Naw (""The New World"") and a journalism student at the Balkh university.
Conservative religious clerics have also called for the death penalty for Kambakhsh. His arrest has been condemned by domestic and international rights groups.
He has the right to appeal to higher courts.