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Afghanistan: Student Says Death Verdict Followed Torture To Coerce Confession

Kambakhsh supporters protest in Kabul after his death sentence was announced in January (AFP) KABUL/PRAGUE -- An Afghan journalism student sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Islam has rejected the charges and told an appeals court in Kabul that he was tortured into a confession.

"As a human being, a Muslim, and a descendant of the family of the Prophet Muhammad, I will never allow myself to insult my ancestor or my religion," Kambakhsh told the court, according to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan. "These are things of which I have been unfairly accused. This accusation is unlawful and I don't know why they did this to me."

The hearing was adjourned until May 25 to allow 24-year-old Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh to consult with an attorney and prepare a written defense.

Kambakhsh was condemned to death by a court in Balkh Province in January at a summary trial for blasphemy at which he had no legal representation.

He had been detained in October and spent months in a cell for suspected "national security" threats and then a local jail before his case was transferred to the capital, Kabul.

A source close to the case suggested to RFE/RL in the weeks following the verdict that it was proving difficult to find an attorney to represent Kambakhsh. The source speculated that "maybe they are under pressure or are frightened of the case because of the power of mullahs."

Kevin Olivier, who works on Asian issues for Reporters Without Borders, said last week that Afghan authorities still had not provided the young man's lawyer with the file for the case, thus preventing him from preparing his appeal.

Reporters Without Borders is one of a number of international rights and media organizations that have criticized the case and urged Kambakhsh's release.

Domestic pressure has also arisen on Kambakhsh's behalf to battle what some regard as entrenched religious elements who impede Western-style freedoms and thwart attempts to modernize a society heavily reliant on local tradition.

President Hamid Karzai responded to domestic and international pressure to intervene after the initial verdict with assurances that justice would be served but that the Afghan court system must be allowed to function.

AP reported that a transcript of those January proceedings read at the May 18 hearing asserted that Kambakhsh disrupted classes at Balkh University with questions about women's rights under Islam, distributed an article on the topic, and penned three additional paragraphs for the controversial piece.

In an interview with AP on May 17, Kambakhsh dismissed all three allegations and said he was being made "a scapegoat in some political game."

Kambakhsh was studying journalism at Balkh University and writing for a local newspaper at the time of his detention.

The article reportedly in question was written by an Iranian expatriate who lives in Germany.