Two studies in priorities: First, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, which should — should — have its hands full with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, is devoting time and resources to cases like this.
Second, where did those resources come from? How are Western countries responding to their aid and support for Karzai’s government being used in this fashion? Are they responding at all?
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — On the morning of Oct. 27, 2007, Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh got the call that changed his life.
The phone rang early, before Mr. Kambakhsh had started his day as a second-year journalism student. The caller identified himself as an official from the notorious National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s national intelligence agency.
“They said come to the NDS office,” Mr. Kambakhsh recalled. At the time, he couldn’t fathom what the visit was about. “I arrived over there at 10 a.m. And I waited until 3 p.m., when I asked for the manager to see if I could go home,” he said. “It was my working time. They said to me, ‘You cannot go. You are under arrest.’ Then, they arrested me.”
This week Mr. Kambakhsh narrowly escaped the death penalty over alleged actions that – even had he committed them, which he denies – would be nothing more than a typical classroom debate for a journalism student in the West.
Rather than execution, Mr. Kambakhsh now faces 20 years in prison.
In an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail from his central Kabul jail cell, the 24-year-old recounted for the first time his final moments of freedom and the events that led to his conviction.
His case has made headlines since the arrest – international justice and journalism advocates began a lobbying surge early this year after he was convicted of blasphemy for allegedly asking questions about the role of women in Islamic society.
The death sentence was reduced this week after a witness confessed to lying about Mr. Kambakhsh’s alleged indiscretions, but a Kabul court still upheld the conviction.
And so, at an age when most Afghan men are raising young families, Mr. Kambakhsh finds himself locked alone in prison, pleading for justice and for a chance simply to be heard.
“I am not at fault,” he told The Globe, speaking through a Pashto translator. “I am a Muslim and I respect Islamic rules and regulations. I respect the Holy book of Koran. I respect the Prophet. I am an innocent person. I must be free.”
Back in October, Mr. Kambakhsh tried, to no avail, to tell the intelligence service this very same thing. […]
Ultimately, Mr. Kambakhsh came to believe that his conviction was a sort of consolation prize, one meant to satiate local warlords who were incensed at his older brother.
Also a journalist, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi Kambakhsh’s passion was to publish works outlining “how the people of Afghanistan are the victims of warlordism and extremism,” he said.
“They couldn’t do anything against me directly because … I was very exact about my pieces,” Yaqub Kambakhsh said yesterday.
Still, warlords and their militias had previously attempted to deter him by sending him death threats, and one pointed a gun at his head.
“They are afraid of me because … they are linked with war crimes. If there was real freedom of expression and freedom of media, they would go to war crimes trials.”
He said that the reason the warlords were deterred from killing him was likely because of his international media ties and the “international problems” that coverage of his murder would create.
And so, he said, indirectly killing his brother became their solution.
“They wanted to put pressure and shock me and shock the critical journalists of Afghanistan who are really working for democracy and freedom,” he said.
To a degree, their strategy has worked. Yaqub Kambakhsh has stopped working as a journalist so he can focus on his brother’s case full time. Other journalist friends, he said, have stayed away from sensitive and controversial stories in hopes of preserving their own lives. […]
Mr. Kambakhsh’s brother, Yaqub, said foreign nations investing in Afghanistan’s redevelopment should press President Hamid Karzai to intervene. The President has yet to comment publicly on the case.
“If Karzai doesn’t have a clear position about this case, countries like Canada must stop their support with this regime, which doesn’t respect the values of democracy,” he said.
“It seems that the Afghan government has two faces, one for foreign countries and one for the people of Afghanistan,” he said. “The real face is very dark and extremist.”