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Former Death-Row Student Flees After Afghan Pardon

A girl holds a picture of journalism student Sayed Pervez Kambakhsh during a demonstration in front of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) officein Kabul in January 2008.
An imprisoned student journalist once sentenced by a local Afghan court to death for apostasy has been freed by a "secret" presidential pardon and fled the country, according to "The Independent," which had mounted a petition drive for the young man's release.

Twenty-four-year-old Sayed Pervez Kambakhsh was condemned in a hasty northern Afghan trial in January 2008 to die in connection with his purported distribution of an article on women's rights under Islam. He had no counsel and little information about the charges against him.

"The Independent" wrote:

Mr Kambaksh was moved from his cell in Kabul's main prison a fortnight ago and kept at a secure location for a few days before being flown out of the country. Prior to his departure, he spoke of how his relief was mixed with deep regret at knowing he was unlikely to see his family or country again.

Kambakhsh and his relatives have said the case was the result of a vendetta by a local warlord.

His sentence had been commuted to 20 years in prison in October 2008, but President Hamid Karzai had faced strong pressure from rights and journalist advocates as well as foreign governments to intervene in the case.

The timing suggests Karzai, who has seen his popularity flag in the face of perceived corruption and security setbacks, was reluctant to act ahead of his reelection bid against Abdullah Abdullah and other challengers on August 20. Karzai reportedly leads the vote count but would need an outright majority to avoid a runoff amid sharp criticism of the balloting.

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