Afghan journalist sentenced to death for 'anti-Islam' paper

An Afghan court has sentenced a 23-year-old journalism student to death after judges said an internet paper he printed and distributed violated the tenets of Islam.

The three-judge panel sentenced Sayad Parwez Kambaksh to death for distributing a paper that humiliated Islam, said Fazel Wahab, the chief judge in the northern province of Balkh, where the trial took place. Mr Wahab did not preside over the trial.

Mr Kambaksh’s family and the head of a journalists’ group denounced the verdict and said Mr Kambaksh had not been represented by a lawyer at his trial. Members of a clerics council had been pushing for Mr Kambaksh to be punished.

The case would now go to the first of two appeal courts, Mr Wahab said. Mr Kambaksh, who has been in jail since October, will remain in custody during the appeal.

Mr Wahab said he did not immediately have the details of the paper that Kambaksh circulated, other than that it was against Islam.

Mr Kambaksh discussed the paper with his teacher and classmates at Balkh University, and several students complained to the government, Mr Wahab said.

Clerics in Balkh and Kunduz province arranged a demonstration in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif last week against Mr Kambaksh, calling on the government not to release him.

Mr Kambaksh also works as a journalist at the Jahan-i-Naw newspaper in Mazar-i-Sharif.

His brother, Yacoubi Brahimi, described yesterday’s proceeding as a “secret trial”, saying the family did not know it had been scheduled.

Some have accused Mr Kambaksh of writing the paper in question, but Mr Brahimi said his brother printed it from the internet.

“He told them he didn’t write this article,” said Mr Brahimi. “It was written by an Iranian.”

Mr Wahab said Mr Kambaksh told the court that he could defend himself and did not need a lawyer. But Mr Kambaksh’s brother said he should have had one.

Mr Wahab said only President Hamid Karzai could forgive Mr Kambaksh because he had confessed to violating the tenets of Islam.

Rhimullah Samandar, the head of the Kabul-based National Journalists Union of Afghanistan, said Mr Kambaksh had been sentenced to death under Article 130 of the Afghan constitution. That article says that if no law exists regarding an issue, a court’s decision should be in accord with Hanafi jurisprudence.

Hanafi is an orthodox school of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence followed in southern and central Asia.

Mr Samandar called for Karzai to intervene.

“We completely condemn this trial,” he said. “It goes against the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.”

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