10 February 2008

Is this what we are fighting for?

The Independent (UK) has drawn attention to the plight of Sayed Pervez Kambkash:

A young man, a student of journalism, is sentenced to death by an Islamic court for downloading a report from the internet. The sentence is then upheld by the country's rulers. This is Afghanistan – not in Taliban times but six years after "liberation" and under the democratic rule of the West's ally Hamid Karzai.

The fate of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh has led to domestic and international protests, and deepening concern about erosion of civil liberties in Afghanistan. He was accused of blasphemy after he downloaded a report from a Farsi website which stated that Muslim fundamentalists who claimed the Koran justified the oppression of women had misrepresented the views of the prophet Mohamed.

Mr Kambaksh, 23, distributed the tract to fellow students and teachers at Balkh University with the aim, he said, of provoking a debate on the matter. But a complaint was made against him and he was arrested, tried by religious judges without – say his friends and family – being allowed legal representation and sentenced to death.

The Independent is launching a campaign today to secure justice for Mr Kambaksh. The UN, human rights groups, journalists' organisations and Western diplomats have urged Mr Karzai's government to intervene and free him. But the Afghan Senate passed a motion yesterday confirming the death sentence.

The MP who proposed the ruling condemning Mr Kambaksh was Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, a key ally of Mr Karzai. The Senate also attacked the international community for putting pressure on the Afghan government and urged Mr Karzai not to be influenced by outside un-Islamic views.

The newspaper has an online petition calling for the UK Foreign Office to put "all possible pressure" on the Afghan government to prevent Mr Kambaksh's execution. Click here to read and, if you see fit, to sign it.

The Independent has subsequently reported that the death penalty may not be enforced:

A ministerial aide, Najib Manalai, insisted: "I am not worried for his life. I'm sure Afghanistan's justice system will find the best way to avoid this sentence."

Some people may believe this, others will, like me, wait and see what happens. The Independent's petition has so far gathered more than 63,000 signatures which may have had some influence. In Australia we've heard little of the matter, even though we have troops there propping up defending Mr Karzai's regime.

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