- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An Afghan journalist who was sentenced to death for distributing an article about Islam and women’s rights actually is being punished for his brother’s reporting on abuses by warlords, a media group said yesterday.

Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh, 23, was sentenced to death Tuesday by a three-judge panel in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif for distributing a report he printed off the Internet to fellow journalism students at Balkh University.

The article asks why men can have four wives but women can’t have multiple husbands. It was written in the Iranian language of Farsi, which is similar to the Afghan language of Dari.

The judges said the article humiliated Islam, and members of a clerics council pushed for Mr. Kaambakhsh to be punished. The case now goes to the first of two appeals courts.

Jean MacKenzie, country director for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), which helps train Afghan journalists, said Mr. Kaambakhsh was being punished for stories written for IWPR by his brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi.



“We feel very strongly that this is a complete fabrication on the part of the authorities up in Mazar, designed to put pressure on Parwez’s brother Yaqub, who has done some of the hardest-hitting pieces outlining abuses by some very powerful commanders in Balkh and the other northern provinces,” Miss MacKenzie said.

The media industry has exploded in recent years in Afghanistan, which now has dozens of newspapers and TV news channels. But journalists are routinely pressured by government officials or powerful factional leaders trying to prevent reporting on sensitive issues.

Miss MacKenzie said authorities in Balkh province searched Mr. Ibrahimi’s computer hard drive and took the names and phone numbers of sources he spoke with for stories. “So we feel that what is happening with Parwez is not a very veiled threat against Yaqub Ibrahimi,” Miss MacKenzie said.

Mr. Ibrahimi wrote stories for IWPR late last year quoting villagers accusing Afghan lawmaker Piram Qul of being behind killings and kidnappings. Mr. Qul — a former commander in the militant and political group Jamiat-e-Islami and a current parliament member from Takhar province — denied the claims.

Qayoum Baabak, editor of the Jahan-e-Naw newspaper in Mazar, where Mr. Kaambakhsh works, said the local prosecutor, Hafiz Khaliqyar, warned journalists at a recent press conference that they would be punished if they supported Mr. Kaambakhsh.

Reporters Without Borders called on President Hamid Karzai to intervene. The International Federation of Journalists denounced the holding of the trial in a closed session and Mr. Kaambakhsh’s lack of an attorney.

Muslim clerics in Balkh and Kunduz province arranged a demonstration in Mazar-e-Sharif last week against Mr. Kaambakhsh, calling on the government not to release him.

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