March 10, 2009
President Hamid Karzai
Gul Khana Palace
Kabul , Afghanistan
Dear President Karzai:
We are deeply concerned about the fate of journalism student Parwez Kambakhsh after his lawyer was informed that the Supreme Court apparently upheld his 20-year prison sentence. We ask that you determine the status of Kambakhsh’s case (which has yet to be made public), to pardon him if the sentence is in fact in effect, and to ensure his safe release.
Defense lawyer Mohammad Afzal Nooristani, who spoke with CPJ by telephone this morning, said the court has yet to make public its decision, although the ruling was said to be made behind closed doors about a month ago. A receptionist at the Supreme Court told Nooristani the judgment was passed in a closed session and that documents reporting the court’s decision were sent to the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif where Kambakhsh resides. Kambakhsh was also informally notified of the decision by a source in the penal system, Kambakhsh’s brother, Yaqub Ibrahimi told CPJ. An expected hearing before the high court was not held, and neither Kambakhsh nor his counsel had the opportunity to present their argument, according to Nooristani.
National Directorate of Security (NDS) officials arrested Kambakhsh in October 2007 after investigating him and Ibrahimi, a journalist who frequently reported on crime and corruption issues threatening Mazar-i-Sharif and the rest of Balkh province. Kambakhsh, a 23-year-old who wrote for a local paper and who describes himself as a devout Muslim, was accused of circulating an online article deemed offensive to Islam. In early 2008 he was sentenced to death by Balkh ’s regional court with the support of local clerics. His supporters lobbied to have him transferred to Kabul for an appeal; in October, a three-judge panel there upheld the conviction while reducing the death sentence to a 20-year prison term. Those proceedings justified concerns shared by several journalists in Afghanistan about the fairness of the charges. One prosecution witness admitted being intimidated into giving false testimony against Kambakhsh, his former classmate, according to his lawyer and international journalists observing the trial.
Kambakhsh now faces a possible transfer from the detention center in Kabul to a prison elsewhere in the capital or in Mazar-i-Sharif. Before being moved to the Kabul detention center last year, Kambakhsh had been subjected to death threats from prison inmates, according to his brother. Kambakhsh’s health has deteriorated significantly under the physical and psychological pressure of his trial, Ibrahimi told CPJ by telephone. It is essential that your government protect him.
CPJ wrote to you in January 2008 asking you to ensure that Kambakhsh’s case be speedily resolved. At the time, your spokesman told reporters that you were concerned but would respect the judicial process.
In light of proceedings that have been secretive and a conviction that is unjust, however, we urge you intervene at this moment. We ask that after confirming the status of the case you take all steps necessary to protect and set free Parwez Kambakhsh. We look forward to your prompt attention to this vital matter.
Hilary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State
Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan
Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghan Ambassador to the United States
William Wood, U.S. Ambassador, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
American Society of Newspaper Editors
Article 19 (United Kingdom)
Artikel 19 (The Netherlands )
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Freedom of Expression and Democracy Unit, UNESCO
Human Rights Watch
Index on Censorship
International Center for Journalists
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Institute
Karen B. Stewart, Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
The Newspaper Guild
The North American Broadcasters Association
Overseas Press Club