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Afghanistan: Karzai Following Reporter's Capital Case 'Very Closely'

President Karzai's comments could help depoliticize the case (AFP) Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office says it is concerned about a death sentence given to an Afghan journalist for allegedly insulting Islam.

Presidential spokesman Humayoon Hamidzada told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that Karzai will not intervene in the blasphemy case against journalist Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh until an appellate court issues a ruling.

The death sentence, which was issued by a lower court in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, must be approved by the presidency before it can be carried out under Afghan law.

"There is no need for the president to speak about that conviction [in the] Kambakhsh case because there is a judicial process," Hamidzada said. "Of course the president is concerned, and we are watching the situation very closely."

The comments from Karzai's office appear aimed at easing the politically charged atmosphere surrounding the verdict, which has been heavily criticized by media groups and international media.

Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, the head of the upper house of the Afghan National Assembly, came out with an endorsement of the verdict in the form of a statement issued through the parliament's media office on January 30, although he later conceded that he should not have sought to intervene.

"We will follow the judicial process in consultation with the Ulema Shura (local clerical council) as well," Hamidzada said. "And then, in light of those decisions and the Afghan Constitution -- as well as our international obligations and respect for human rights -- the Afghan government will make a decision."

An Iranian blogger in France has come forward to say he wrote the opinion piece that is at the heart of the case, in which the author questions some interpretations of the Koran dealing with the treatment of women. Kambakhsh was charged with blasphemy after he reportedly printed out the article from the Internet and distributed it to fellow students.

Kambakhsh was convicted and condemned to death in a summary process in Balkh Province on January 22 in which his family says he had no legal representation.

He has said his death sentence was already in writing in front of a judge when he entered the courtroom.

The deputy prosecutor of Balkh Province, Qazi Hafizullah Khaliqyar, has called Kambakhsh's trial fair but said he would assign a "special committee" to the case.