Afghanistan: Journalist sentenced to death for blasphemy

*** UPDATE: English PEN remain deeply concerned by the case of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, particularly in the light of recent developments. According to our information, Kambakhsh’s appeal hearing has now been delayed twice, firstly on 18 May 2008, on the grounds that a defence lawyer was not present for Kambakhsh, and again on 25 May 2008, reportedly due to the poor health of the defendant. Journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, Kambakhsh’s brother, has claimed the reason for his brother’s ill health is his prolonged detention in highly unsanitary conditions and the severe psychological stress he has been under since his arrest in October 2007 and his conviction in January. We therefore urge the Afghan authrorities to intervene in order to ensure a fair and speedy determination of Kambakhsh’s appeal.***


*** UPDATE: English PEN welcomes the transfer of young Afghan journalist Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh to Kabul on 27 March 2008, ahead of his appeal hearing.***


On 11 March 2008, his brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, a prominent journalist, had voiced his anxiety at a press conference about threats to Kambakhsh, who was locked up with criminals and terrorists in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. His request for transfer to Kabul was finally accepted, thus allowing Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh to be separated from other detainees in the vast Pul-e-Sharkhi jail. His transfer to Kabul has given rise to hopes that his appeal will not be influenced by religious fundamentalists, as was the case when he was sentenced to death for “blasphemy” by a court in Mazar-i-Sharif on 22 January. ***


English PEN is shocked by the death sentence handed down to journalist Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh on 22 January 2008. 


According to PEN’s information, 23-year-old Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, journalism student at Balkh university and reporter for the local daily Jahan-e-Naw (The New World), was arrested on 27 October 2007 in Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh province, northern Afghanistan, for distributing allegedly anti-Islamic literature.


He was detained by National Directorate of Security (NDS) forces on blasphemy charges after downloading and giving to friends an article (not authored by himself) that allegedly said the Prophet Mohammed ignored women’s rights. He was also reportedly accused of possessing allegedly anti-Islamic books and starting un-Islamic debates in his classes. Whilst Kambakhsh admits to circulating the article, he denies the accusations of blasphemy.


Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh was tried by an Islamic court in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh Province, on 22 January 2008, and sentenced to death. The trial was reportedly held behind closed doors, and he was denied legal representation. Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh is feared to be targeted for association with his brother, prominent journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, who works for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting and has been under escalating pressure as a result of his critical reporting on local officials and warlords. The prosecution of Sayed Parwez Kambaksh has been viewed by fellow journalists as an attempt to silence his brother.


Please send appeals:


  • Expressing shock at the death sentence handed down to journalist Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh on blasphemy charges;

  • Calling on President Karzai to personally intervene to secure his immediate and unconditional release, in accordance with Afghan law and Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.




His Excellency Hamid Karzai

President of the Islamic State of Afghanistan


Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

(Salutation: Your Excellency)


It may be most effective to send the above appeal letter care of the Afghan Government’s representative in London:


His Excellency Dr Rahim Sherzoy

Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

31 Prince’s Gate

London SW7 1QQ

Fax: 020 7584 4801 


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