Afghanistan: Perwiz Kambakhsh’s release raises hopes for other detainees

Amnesty International has urged the Afghan government to free two writers accused of blasphemy, following the pardon of Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, convicted of distributing an article that questioned the role of women is Islam.

Ahmad Ghous Zelmay and Qari Mushtaq received sentences of 20 years imprisonment in 2008 for publishing a translation of the Qur’an without the accompanying Arabic script

“We welcome Kambakhsh’s freedom, and we hope that his long overdue release is followed by the release of all those who are detained in Afghanistan solely for expressing their opinions,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific Director at Amnesty International.

The organization welcomed confirmation today that Kambakhsh, whose death sentence was commuted to a 20-year prison term in October 2008, was released following a presidential pardon.  He has been given political asylum in a third country.

“The case should have never reached the courts. His conviction and sentence have no legal basis, as he did not commit any recognizably criminal offence,” said Sam Zarifi. 

“We hope Kambakhsh’s release signals that the Afghan government cares about justice for its citizens. We hope that the next administration—whoever is the president—will do more to protect human rights, including freedom of expression which is increasingly under threat.”

Notes to editors:

On 22 January 2008 student and journalist Perwiz Kambakhsh was sentenced to death by a primary court in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif for “blasphemy” in what Amnesty International believes was an unfair trial. The sentence was quashed on 21 October 2008 by a court of appeal in Kabul and replaced with a 20-year prison term. On 11 February 2009, the Supreme Court secretly upheld the 20-year prison sentence. Kambakhsh is one of more than 200 hundred prisoners who were recently pardoned by President Karzai.

Amnesty International believes that there were no legal grounds for either his conviction or his sentence. According to the prosecution, he had downloaded an article from the internet that questioned the condition of women in Islam, added some commentary and distributed it at Balkh University, where he was studying. Kambakhsh denied this, saying that he had been “coerced” into confessing. The court proceedings against Kambakhsh appear to be politically motivated, aimed at stopping his brother, journalist Yaqub Ibrahimi, from publishing articles critical of local warlords. His case stoked up conservative religious sentiment against him in Afghanistan, where the government has relied on the support of extremely conservative religious leaders.