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Sayed Pervez Kambaksh released

September 8, 2009

In February 2008 Afghan student and journalist Sayed Pervez Kambaksh was found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death after downloading and distributing a report on the rights of women in Islam. In October 2008, an appeals court commuted the sentence to 20 years in prison. Now, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Kambaksh has been secretly pardoned and released.

According to RSF, Kambakhsh’s lawyer has confirmed that his client was released several weeks ago after President Hamid Karzai secretly signed a pardon. Kambaksh is then reported to have left the country for fear of reprisals.

– We hail Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh’s release with deep emotion, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said in a statement on the human rights organization’s web site.

However, the Kambaksh case is a major setback for a democracy in the making, and has left yet another ugly stain on Afghanistan’s tainted reputation. Afghan authorities clearly have a lot of work to if they really want to overcome the ugly legacy of the Taliban.

– The authorities must now ensure that article 130 of the Afghan constitution, defining blasphemy, is no longer used to bring politically-motivated charges and to suppress free expression, Julliard concluded.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai flanked by Supreme Court judges at his inauguration. According to RSF, president Karzai secretly pardoned Sayed Pervez Kambaksh several weeks ago. Photo: U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. James M. Bowman / Wikimedia Commons

UPDATE (26.1.2015): This post got a lot of traffic after Swedish newspaper Expressen published a story about how Carl Bildt (then Swedish foreign minister) helped smuggle Kambaksh out of Afghanistan on the Swedish government’s airplane.

A discussion of this story on Twitter led me to an earlier story in Norwegian paper Dagbladet about how Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide negotiated for the pardon and release of the Afghan journalist. According to Dagbladet, Eide negotiated for Kambaksh’ release for about a year, but to no avail. Then, in August 2009, Kambaksh was suddenly and secretly released. However, he was far from safe, as Afghan extremists would still like to see him executed for blasphemy. It was therefore very important to get him out of the country as soon as possible.

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt was in Afghanistan at the time, and Eide contacted him. Bildt agreed to let Kambaksh travel with him to Stockholm on the Swedish government’s plane. From there, Kambaksh was transported to Oslo by car. After a week in Oslo, he left Norway. According to The Local.se, he is now “understood to be in the US”.

Of course, when I wrote the original post above, I was not aware of the involvement of neither Swedish nor Norwegian diplomats. Neither did I know how anything about Kambaksh’ whereabouts. Neither did the rest of the world, as the diplomats involved kept a lid on the case for a couple of months.

When Eide told his story to Dagbladet in December 2009, I somehow missed it. So, apparently, did Expressen, as they presented their story as quite a scoop – six years after Dagbladet’s article.

I am still not certain whether Kambaksh was in fact pardoned before or after he secretly left the country. However, it seems quite clear that both Kai Eide and Carl Bildt played important roles in bringing him to safety. According to Dagbladet, so did then Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Støre, Afghan writer Samay Hamed, and the Afghan and Norwegian PEN.

UPDATE 2: Of course, the statement by Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard is no longer on the front page of RSF. It can be found here.

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