Another example of the cultural norms that the United States is up against in attempting to create some semblance of democracy in Afghanistan- (from The New York Times)
KABUL, Afghanistan – An Afghan court in northern Afghanistan sentenced a journalism student to death for blasphemy for distributing an article from the Internet that was considered an insult to the Prophet Muhammad, the judge in charge of the court said Wednesday.
The student, Sayed Parwiz Kambakhsh, 23, who also works on a local newspaper, was charged with directly insulting Muhammad by calling the prophet “a killer and adulterer,” the judge, Shamsurahman Muhmand, said in a telephone interview.
The sentence was immediately denounced as unfair by Mr. Kambakhsh’s family and journalists’ organizations. Mr. Kambakhsh’s brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, denied his brother had committed blasphemy, and said his brother was not given enough time to prepare his defense for the trial and was denied a defense lawyer.
Mr. Kambakhsh will have the right of appeal to the regional court and then the Supreme Court.
Mr. Kambakhsh is in fact being punished for articles written by his brother, Mr. Ibrahimi, said Jean Mackenzie, director for the Institute for Peace and War Reporting in Afghanistan, which has printed some of Mr. Ibrahimi’s stories. The day after his brother was arrested in October, officials from the National Directorate of Security raided Mr. Ibrahimi’s home and seized his computer hard drive, she said. They were most interested in the sources on a story that was critical of a local militia commander and parliamentarian called Piram Qol, she said.
Hearings of the case against Mr. Kambakhsh were delayed several times, until the provincial Council of Clerics met last week and called for the death sentence to be imposed on the student.
The case is the third time that clerics have called for the death sentence for a blasphemer in Afghanistan in the six years since the removal of the Taliban regime and reflects the deep conservatism that prevails in Afghan society even under the more liberal government of President Hamid Karzai.
In previous cases, those accused have either left the country and sought asylum abroad, or in one case an editor was absolved after government intervention. Yet mullahs have voiced increasingly strident complaints against the perceived corruption of society by foreign influence and in particular the influence of foreign television and film channels.
Mr. Muhmand, who is trained in religious law, headed a three-judge panel that heard Mr. Kambakhsh’s case in the primary civilian court in the town of Mazar-i-Sharif Tuesday. He denied that he was influenced by the call from clerics for the death sentence and said he judged the case according to the law.
Mr. Kambakhsh is a student at the faculty of journalism in Mazar-i-Sharif and also works for a daily paper, Jahan-e-Naw, as a reporter. He was accused of downloading a controversial article and adding some of his own paragraphs about the ignorance of the Prophet Muhammad on women’s rights.
“He confessed that he added three paragraphs to the article and distributed it to his classmates at the university,” Mr. Muhmand said.
The director of the Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association, Rahimullah Samander, said he was shocked to learn of the sentence and had already appealed to Mr. Karzai, Parliament and other officials, asking them to intervene.
“It was unfair and the case should have been referred to the commission of journalists’ offenses, based on the law on the media,” he said.
He said that the local government and the Council of Clerics had influenced the court’s decision as Mr. Kambakhsh and his brother, Mr. Ibrahimi, were often writing articles that were critical of the local government.
The case follows two previous incidents of journalists being accused of blasphemy in Afghanistan since 2001 and the installation of Mr. Karzai’s government. One concerned Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, the editor of a Kabul-based monthly women’s magazine, who was sentenced to two years imprisonment in October 2005 for blasphemy. He was later freed on appeal after intervention by the minister of information and culture.