Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh said that before his arrest, his "friends used to tell me that the Afghan justice system is unfair I didn't believe them."
Kambakhsh, a student of journalism at Belkh University in Afghanistan was arrested on October 27, 2007, by the Afghani authorities and sentenced to death by firing squad at the age of 23. He was imprisoned and sentenced on the grounds that he insulted Mohammed and the Quran. According the Sharia law, a person who insults the Quran or the Prophet himself must die. Tried by a three-judge panel in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Kambakhsh was found guilty of blasphemy; he was accused and found guilty of downloading a blasphemous document from the internet and distributing it. This document - written by “Arash Bikhoda” (atheist in Arab) - criticized the Muslim practice of polygamy, portraying the Prophet Mohammed is portrayed as a thief and a fornicator. So, Kambakhsh has been accused of anti-Islamic propaganda.
“It was about four p.m. when guards brought me into a room where there were three judges and an attorney sitting behind their desks. There was no one else,” Kambakhsh told IWPR. According to Kambakhsh himself, “the death sentence had already been written. I wanted to say something, but they would not let me speak. They too said nothing. They just handed me a piece of paper on which it was written that I had been sentenced to death. Then armed guards came and took me out of the room, and brought me back to the prison.” Kambakhsh’s trial allegedly lasted only four minutes; further evidence that his verdict and sentence had already been decided even before his trial began.
The trial was a circus, he never had a chance. This is a truth that is putting pressure on Hamid Karzai, the Afghani President. He promised to do something for Kambakhsh but his hands are tied by the radical religious establishment. A President that would do what Western governments asked him to do (release the young boy), would be, in fact, too weak to lead the country.
According to Jean McKenzie (director of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Afghanistan), though, the Kambakhsh was just being used as a scapegoat. Kambakhsh, too, felt he was being treated unfairly; he told the Associated Press in an interview that he felt he was being used as the scapegoat in "some political game". The Afghan authorities could not reach his brother, Yaqb Ibrahim, - the real target of this deathly blow - because he has never actually done or said anything against Islam. Instead, Yaqub Ibrahimi has only written against the political establishment that is ruling his country. Specifically about human rights violations and local politics for the IWPR, an organization that trains Afghan journalists.
"We feel very strongly that this is a complete fabrication on the part of the authorities in Mazar, designed to put pressure on Kambakhsh’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", said McKenzie in a interview.
No, the target was not Kambakhsh but Yaqub. Why? Because he is a disturbing character. His articles and research have struck a chord in the illegal power system in Afghanistan. The masters of war in the north of the country can only survive as long as their actions remain unknown to the broad public. In this sense, Yaqub has been the superman, and the Afghan government was counting on the fact that Kambakhsh would be like Kryptonite, and would help them to control Yaqub’s criticism of their administration. According to Yaqub, they were successful in their attempt; in fact he told me that he won’t write anymore about the political situation in his country, since this has lead to the capture of his brother.
It goes without saying that the accusation against Kambakhsh is completely absurd; it doesn’t make sense that a student in journalism would make such a stupid mistake. Distributing such an insulting document in a school of journalism in Afghanistan? No one would do that. Not to mention the fact that this particular student had an example to follow: his brother Yaqub is a well known journalist in his own country and, now, even outside.
“There were thousands requests worldwide for his release from president Karzai - writes Yaqub Ibrahimi in a press release - and Karzai had promised all that Kambakhsh would be released in Appeals court. Italy was one of the countries which honestly put pressure on Afghan government and its authorities several times met Karzai and requested him to use his influence for releasing Kambakhsh. But in spite of his all promises to the international community especially to Italy, Karzai accepted the orders of fundamentalists for punishing Kambakhsh.”
Of course the case of Kambakhsh has sparked a wave of protests all around the world. Many politicians have spoken out against the justice system in Afghanistan, and members of the United States' State Department questioned the justice of Kambakhsh being sentenced to death for "basically practicing his profession,” but that did not bring Yaqub’s brother out of jail. "
Now, Afghan authorities are trying to slow down Kambakhsh’s trial in order to keep him in jail. Some are trying to do something like Bob Dietz, the Asia program coordinator for the New York-based rights group Committee to Protect Journalists. According to the International Herald Tribune, Dietz saw the transfer of the case to Kabul and the defendant's access to legal counsel as a serious improvement; although, it was still not enough. In his opinion, it is the Afghan legal system that must be reformed. The point that Dietz and others are making is that in order to help Kambakhsh and his brother in their struggle, to take a lasting stance against the Sharia, we don’t just have to get him out of jail. That would be like fixing a brick on a shaking wall. We must look at the bigger picture and understand that it is the country that needs to be saved from the hands of the masters of war, radical Islam, and the leaders of this unfair government. Reforming its legal system, in fact, would impossible without confronting all of these parallel powers.
Now, the former student spends his days locked in a cell at Pul-e Charkhi. This is, clearly, not the life that Kambakhsh was studying for. No longer a student of journalism, Kambakhsh passes his time singing and writing Persian poetry, he reads books about Afghan and world history when there is enough light in his cell for him to see the pages. Kambakhsh hopes to write a book about his time and experiences in Afghan prisons. That is, of course, if he gets out alive.
The diminution of the unjust death sentence to a still absurd sentence of 20 years in jail, is still unacceptable. According to Kambakhsh’s brother: “ due to his bad health he is really sick and psychologically vulnerable. The environment in jail has made him physically and psychologically sick and he clearly cannot spend more time in jail.” Both Afghanistan and Pakistan can be considered operative bases of international terrorism, it is time now for western governments to take that into account and stand united against such injustices. Otherwise Kambakhsh’s sad story might just be a tip of the iceberg of injustice that we are going to bump into.
Andrea Loquenzi is an Italian journalist and research fellow at the Rome-based think tank, The Magna Charta Foundation.