Kambaksh death sentence commuted to 20 years in jail
According to the Independent, an Afghan appeals court has quashed the death sentence imposed on Sayed Pervez Kambaksh for downloading information on women’s rights. However, the judges ruled that Kambaksh should serve 20 years in jail.
In January 2007, Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, a 24-year-old Afghan trainee journalist, was tried by religious judges without legal representation and sentenced to death after students at his university accused him of distributing material on women’s rights which “insulted Islam”.
During the appeals court hearing on 22 October 2008, one of the prosecution’s main witnesses, student Hamid Ali¹, withdrew his testimony against Kambaksh. According to CNN, Hamid Ali told the court he had been forced into making a statement against Kambakhsh by members of Afghanistan’s intelligence service and a professor.
The appeals court judges quashed Kambaksh’s death sentence, but instead sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Kambaksh’s lawyers insisted that this decision was unconstitutional and should be overturned by the country’s supreme court, as the appeals court had the power to uphold or set aside the death sentence, but no right to “arbitrarily” impose a jail term.
– The first thing I am going to do is challenge the 20-year sentence. This court had no right to impose that. This will take another few months, but at least they are not going to hang him and we now have time, said Mohammed Afzal Nuristani, one of Kambaksh’s lawyers.
Kambaksh himself had been hoping to be freed by the appeals court, but was nevertheless very relieved by the fact that he is no longer facing the death sentence.
– Hearing the judge say that long sentence was very surprising, but I now just want to continue with the legal cases and, hopefully, I’ll get freed, he told the Independent.
Strong support for Kambaksh
While religious fundamentalists may want to see Kambaksh dead, the support for the young student is strong, both in Afghanistan and abroad. Even the head of the jail where he is being held, General Taj Mohammed, has told the Independent that it was “very wrong” to sentence Kambaksh to death and that he should be freed as soon as possible.
Amnesty International appealed for Kambaksh to be freed as there are no legal grounds for either his conviction or his sentence, and Bob Dietz of the Committee to Protect Journalists even described the new sentence as “a step backwards for freedom of expression [in] Afghanistan”.
Hopefully, Kambaksh will not have to spend the next 20 years in prison. The massive support for Kambaksh gives reason to hope that he will soon be freed, either as a result of the international pressure, or through the actions of the Afghan Supreme Court.
– What happened [at the appeals court] was because there are still extremist people in this country who want us to stay at a dark time. The trial was very unfair and they came to a decision which all the lawyers tell us is illegal. We hope the Supreme Court will now take the right course and Pervez will be freed one day soon, Kambaksh’s brother, Yaqub Ibrahimi told the Independent.¹ Or Hamid Nabil? Afghan flag: Andrew Duhan / Wikimedia Commons