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Radio Australia – Asia Pacific – AFGHANISTAN: Journalist sentenced to death for blasphemy

[This is the print version of story http://www.abc.net.au/ra/asiapac/programs/s2148136.htm]

AFGHANISTAN: Journalist sentenced to death for blasphemy – 28/01/2008

In Afghanistan, a young journalism student has been sentenced to death for blasphemy, after allegedly distributing an article on why Muslim women can’t have more than one husband. Judges in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif accuse 23-year-old Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh of humiliating Islam by giving copies of the article to his fellow students. But the media advocacy group which employs Mr Kaambakhsh’s brother Yacoub says the young student’s being targeted to persuade his brother to stop reporting on human rights abuses in Afghanistan.

Presenter – Corinne Podger  Speaker – Jared Ferrie, Institute of War and Peace Reporting in Kabul

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FERRIE: He’s accused of downloading a number of copies and articles from the internet. My understanding is that the article was critical of the way that women are treated according to Islam. So he’s been accused of downloading this article, printing it out and distributing it at the university. And so the charge against him is blasphemy.

PODGER: IWPR believes his sentence has nothing to do with distributing an article about gender in Islam, but it’s rather a punishment or intimidation aimed at his brother who workers with you?

FERRIE: Right, he denies that he downloaded this article and distributed it. What he and his brother Yacoub are assuming is that this is actually an indirect attack at Yacoub, and Yacoub is a journalist with IWPR, and he’s done a number of controversial stories over the years. For example, on warlord essentially who are, one in particular is a member of parliament and he’s been accused of all sorts of abuses, basically Yacoub in his stories has exposed a number of human rights abuses that have taken place and his stories points a finger at this fellow in particular. Another one was on the sexual exploitation of young boys, it’s apparently a common practice in certain parts of the country where warlords will actually take a young boy of maybe 13 or 14 and essentially use the young boy as a sex slave. So Yacoub did a story which indicated that the practice is actually quite widespread and growing in certain parts of northern Afghanistan. Certainly Yacoub has faced intimidation and threats over the years. He’s thinking that this is actually an indirect act at him, after his brother was imprisoned the authorities came to Yacoub’s home and they demanded to see his notes for particular stories, his sources, they wanted him to open up his computer and show them his information, which he refused to do. Certainly there are connections between warlords and people in the government, some of whom are warlords and the judicial system which is in Afghanistan known to be quite corrupt. So it certainly is possible, I’m not saying this, we don’t have the facts at this point, but it certainly is possible that the judiciary is being used by certain powerful people to actually persecute Yacoub and his brother.

PODGER: The judges who have sentenced Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh say they acted in accordance with Islamic Sharia law. Now I understand it can now go to appeal the case?

FERRIE: Yeah, so what we’ve seen is that the primary court has sentenced this man to death. Now there’s two more courts to go through. Either one of them can overturn the sentence, and I would suggest that they probably would. It seems a bit extreme that they would actually carry out a death sentence against this young man. But according to Sharia law, which is the law in Afghanistan, it is blasphemy against Islam is punishable by death.

PODGER: Afghanistan’s media scene has expanded enormously since the defeat of the Taliban government. What is there in the way of media freedom?

FERRIE: Certainly after the fall of the Taliban we saw proliferation of media of all types; radio, television, print and internet sites. So it has been striving for a number of years. Recently we’ve seen more threats against journalists. There’s been a number of cases that have been brought to the attention of international media organisations. So basically what we’re seeing as a whole is that while media freedom has greatly increased obviously since the fall of the Taliban, you’re seeing a bit of that freedom being rolled back at this point, and the signs of that are arrests of journalists, threats against journalists, general intimidation of journalists who are doing controversial stories.

© 2008 Australian Broadcasting Corporation
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