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Afghanistan: Watchdog Appeals To Kabul Over 'Blasphemous' Reporter

A supporter of Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh holds a picture of the journalist during a rally in Kabul (file photo) (AFP) There's renewed international concern for Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a young Afghan journalist sentenced to death for blasphemy. The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders is urging the Afghan government to cooperate with the lawyer of Kambakhsh, who remains jailed in Kabul awaiting an appeal hearing.

Nearly two months have passed since Kambakhsh was transferred to the Afghan capital from a jail in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif. Yet the young journalism student -- who was sentenced to death at a summary trial in October for allegedly distributing information insulting to Islam -- is still languishing in a Kabul prison with no fixed date for his appeals hearing.

This week, Reporters Without Borders, the international press-freedom watchdog, once again raised its voice, appealing to the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to cooperate with Kambakhsh's lawyer.

Kevin Olivier, who works on Asian issues for the organization in Paris, says the lawyer still has not received the file for the case from the Afghan authorities, which is preventing him from preparing the appeal.

"The case has not progressed since it was transferred to the Kabul court of justice," Olivier says. "We urge the authorities to speed up the procedure so that Kambakhsh's appeal can receive a fair hearing, far from the influence of religious fundamentalists."

Sentenced To Death

A journalism student who wrote for the newspaper "Jahan-e Naw" (New World), Kambakhsh was arrested in October on what rights activists say were trumped up charges of distributing information insulting to Islam. Kambakhsh was said to have distributed printouts of an article by an Iranian blogger about Koranic passages that the author said discriminated against women.

On January 22, Kambakhsh was sentenced to death in a trial that relatives say was held behind closed doors. The case highlights the tension between international human-rights law -- which the Afghan Constitution pledges to uphold -- and some interpretations of Islam.

Reporters Without Borders says his lawyer did not dare attend the trial for fear of reprisals. The watchdog is now urging the Afghan government to ensure the appeals hearing, which has still not been scheduled, will be fair and open.

"This was not the case when he was tried and sentenced to death for blasphemy in Mazar-e Sharif," Olivier says. "We call on foreign governments to continue to intercede on Kambakhsh's behalf."

Appeal Not Scheduled

However, just when his appeal will be heard remains unclear.

"They have not given us an exact time for hearing the appeal, but we hope it will be next month," Kambakhsh's brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, who is also a journalist, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.

In the wake of an international uproar over the case, Afghan President Hamid Karzai reportedly told a delegation of Afghan journalists in February not to worry about Kambakhsh, to trust the legal system, and that he would be freed soon.

Kambakhsh was finally transferred to Kabul on March 27. He is being held in Pul-e Charkhi prison, in the eastern part of the capital.