Kabul, 9 March (AKI) – Afghanistan’s Supreme Court has upheld a 20-year jail term for blasphemy handed to Afghan journalist Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, who claimed men and women were equal. Kambakhsh’s brother said the family had just learned of the closed-door ruling delivered a month ago in the absence of Yaqub Kambakhsh, his lawyer or family members, the Information Safety and Freedom media watchdog reported on Monday.
“We thought there would be some justice in the capital of Afghanistan and even at the highest level of the judicial system,” wrote Yaqub Kambakhsh in a letter sent to Information Safety and Freedom.
“But their silent decision seems that first of all there is no justice in Afghanistan at any level. “Kambakhsh is the latest victim.”
Twenty-eight year-old Kambakhsh’s troubles began in 1997, when he wrote in his blog that “extremist mullahs” had distorted the true meaning of Islam’s holy book or Koran.
We hear that a lot. But Kambakhsh took two extra steps that self-styled reformer/apologists seldom if ever do: Criticizing specific Islamic teachings, and to a Muslim audience. If he kept it vague and sought a primarily non-Muslim audience, he might be on prime-time cable news instead of in an Afghan jail.
“If a Muslim man may have four wives, why shouldn’t a wife have four husbands,” he wrote.
He was arrested on blasphemy charges in the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif in 2007 and in October that year a local court condemned him to death
The death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment following pressure from international human rights organisations.
Yaqub Kambakhsh visited Italy and other European countries last month to try and muster support for his brother’s release and fears for his safety in prison.
“We, Parwez’s relations, his colleaues and his lawyers fear he could be murdered in prison, possibly by poisoning – he wouldn’t be the first such victim,” he stated in an interview with Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
Corriere della Sera quoted Italy’s under-secretary for foreign affairs, Alfredo Mantica as claiming the government was concerned about Kambakhsh, but considered it better to intervene after presidential elections due in August 2009 to avoid “politicising” the case.
“We’ve got to protect our phoney baloney jobs, gentlemen!” – Mel Brooks, Blazing Saddles
“It’s a fact that Afghanistan’s courts are strongly influenced by the religious authorities,” Mantica stated.