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IFJ Calls On Afghanistan’s President To Overturn Death Sentence

The International Federation of Journalists
Wednesday 23 January 2008

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The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) strongly condemns a decision by the primary court of Afghanistan’s Balkh province to sentence Sayed Parvez Kambakhsh to death for blasphemy.

Parvez, 23, a journalist for the daily Janan-e-Naw, was detained in the northern city of Mazhar-e-Sharif on October 27, 2007, for reported insolence against Islam. He was accused of distributing articles and books that contained anti-Islamic sentiment.

The court’s decision was issued on January 22 in closed session despite appeals and protests from the provincial council of Balkh province, IFJ associate the Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association (AIJA), and exiled journalist Kamran Mir Hazar. The AIJA reports that Parvez was denied a lawyer, and journalists and civil society and human rights organisations were not permitted entry to the court.

Further serious concerns were raised by AIJA President Rahimullah Samander, who said a judge of the court threatened the arrest of journalists and Parvez’s supporters in the Balkh province.

“A few hours prior to the announcement of the decree, a judge from the primary court threatened all journalists and Parvez supporters that they would be arrested if they protested in Parvez’s favour,” he said in a statement.

The AIJA reports that the court said the ruling was made on the basis of its judicial discretion under Article 130 of Afghanistan’s Constitution.

However, Article 34 of the Constitution clearly defends the right to freedom of expression, in line with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 34 states: “… freedom of expression shall be inviolable. Every Afghan shall have the right to express thoughts through speech, writing, illustrations as well as other means in accordance with provisions of this Constitution.”

The IFJ condemned the sentence, as well as the denial of legal representation to Parvez and the closure of the court proceedings to the public. The proceedings contradicted the fundamental principles of fair, open and democratic process, the IFJ said.

The IFJ called on Afghanistan ’s President, Hamid Karzai, to take immediate action to overturn the sentence and to ensure his Government and Afghanistan ’s authorities upheld the spirit of Afghanistan ’s constitutional guarantee to free expression.

IFJ Asia-Pacific’s Director, Jacqueline Park, said, “ Afghanistan ’s courts are obliged by the country’s own Constitution to uphold freedom of thought and expression. The court’s decision to condemn Parvez – and to condemn him so harshly – impedes the achievement of genuine democracy and due process in Afghanistan .”

The IFJ joins local journalists’ organisations, including the AIJA, and the international press freedom community in demanding the sentence against Parvez be overturned immediately. It also calls for an investigation into the court’s acceptance of the charge, as well as an inquiry into the reasoning for the closed session and the failure to ensure Parvez of legal representation.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries

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