Posted by: Christian | July 23, 2008

Kambakhsh: The Death Penalty, Free Speech and Journalism

In January of this year the Afghan journalist Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh was sentenced to death in a behind-closed-doors hearing that lasted three minutes. According to RFE/RL:

Local and international media groups have condemned the verdict against Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, which family members say followed a “secret trial” at which Kambakhsh had no legal counsel.

Pic: Shamas ul-Rehman Moomand, the death sentence judge.

Why the death penalty? Because of an article he was accused of publishing:

Kambakhsh’s brother and other sources said the article had in fact been taken off the Internet and Kambakhsh had simply distributed copies of it among fellow university students. Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a journalism student at Balk University who also worked for the newspaper “Jahan-e Naw” (The New World), was arrested in late October over a controversial article that commented on verses in the Koran that were about women.

Pic: Rahimullah Samandar of the Independent Journalists Association condemns the arrest and verdict.

And those ulterior motives?

“We feel very strongly that this is a complete fabrication on the part of the authorities up in Mazar, designed to put pressure on Parwez’s brother Yaqub, who has done some of the hardest-hitting pieces outlining abuses by some very powerful commanders in Balkh and the other northern provinces,” IWPR country manager Jean MacKenzie says.

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), a nongovernmental group that helps train journalists in troubled spots, has meanwhile accused the authorities of prosecuting Kambakhsh in order to punish his brother, a contributor to IWPR publications.

His appeal process has been somewhat of a Kangaroo court process with a belligerent judge haranguing Kambakhsh and berating the defense attorney. The bizarre courtroom atmosphere was pointed to by Joshua Foust at Registan. The outcome is still in doubt at the moment and Kambakhsh remains in jail.

Photo via Kabul Press:

Reporters Without Borders has been involved in advocating for Kambakhsh as strongly as possible and provided this update at the beginning of July:

A forensic doctor’s report presented at the appeal court’s hearing on 15 June confirmed that Kambakhsh was tortured by the security forces after his arrest.

And there is a mix of good news and bad news:

Hundreds of Afghan journalists and writers took part in demonstrations yesterday in 15 provinces to call for the release of Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a young journalist under sentence of death. This exemplary show of solidarity came as Kambakhsh’s appeal against his conviction has ground to a halt in Kabul and no date has been set for the next hearing.

Pic: Protests in support of Kambakhsh.

So what will be the outcome? I don’t believe Kambakhsh will be executed. If the Afghan government executes Kambakhsh there would be a severe foreign backlash and likely the withdrawal of (numerous?) NATO/ISAF members from Afghanistan. And at the same time I do not want an outcome like that of Italy’s intervention for the convert to Christianity who was to be sentenced to death. Wisking Kambakhsh out of the country to become a refugee in Europe (abeit a celebrity one) does not do anything to solve the main issue here, which is the basic right of free speech in Afghanistan. There has to be a precedent that will deter Afghan judges from issuing similar verdicts in the future.

For the time being, Kambakhsh languishes in jail.


  1. thank you for this update .
    i hope and pray Afghanistan will rise again

  2. Dude’s got cajones! Reportin’ on the truth, somethin’ even reporters in the west ain’t doin’ no more.

  3. […] wrote much more about the case in this earlier post, including the likely ulterior motive for the death sentence (i.e., who his brother is). Other […]


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