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Vienna | 1.2.2008 | 11:59 
Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds

Zita, Rotifer, Steve

Harsh "Justice" in Afghanistan
  Last week in Afghanistan 23-year-old Perwiz Kambakhsh was sentenced to death for mocking Islam and the Koran.

All he had done, it seems, was distribute a polemic article he'd found the internet.

The sentence has shocked many outside and inside Afghanistan, where around 200 protestors demonstrated in the capital Kabul yesterday. But the authorities are, so far, backing the verdict.

I contacted Reporter's Without Borders' Asia expert Vincent Brossel to talk about this controversial case.
  Chris Cummins: Why exactly has this young man been given the death sentence?

Vincent Brossel: Some religious leaders and local authorities in the north of Afghanistan decided that he had committed the crime of blasphemy, because, apparently, he found an article on the internet and distributed it to his friends and colleagues. The article was written by an Iranian intellectual about the role and the place of women in Muslim society.

I believe the article was asking questions like, for example, why was it that a man could have four wives but a woman couldn't have multiple husbands?

That's right. The Iranian intellectual just took all the parts of the Koran that are talking about women. And, as you know, the Koran was written a few centuries ago, so, as you can imagine, it includes some parts that are quite radical about the place and the role of women. I think this young journalist has a different feeling and opinion on what the role of women in Afghanistan should be. But unfortunately, seven years after the fall of the Taliban, there are still a lot of very conservative authorities and religious people who have a lot of influence in the country. And it's very sad.

 Vincent Brossell
photo: DPA
  The sentence has been approved, praised even, by Afghanistan's upper house of parliament, the Senate. That sounds like very bad news for this young man, doesn't it?

Yes of course. We found that there is a support for this sentence, because everything related to religion and the Koran is so sensitive in Afghanistan that if you don't approve of such an unfair trial as the one against Kambakhsh, you can be accused of being anti-Islamic yourself. Unfortunately, President Karzai hasn't given any word about it and we fear that, being under pressure from the radical conservatives, he will not support this journalist. So we need, first of all, to get a fair appeal trial, we need to get him a good lawyer, and we also need the support of the international community on this subject.

You say that President Harmid Karzai, who has to approve the sentence before it can be carried out, is under pressure from the conservative clerics. But surely he is also under pressure from the Western coalition, which is, to a considerable extent, propping up his regime?

Yes it is very true that Mr. Karzai is under pressure from all sides, but in this case we can really hope that the international community, and the U.N. in particular, will be strong enough to defend Kambakhsh and especially to remind Kazai that freedom of expression is written into the Afghan constitution and this freedom of expression should be extended to religious matters.

It is shocking that everything related to religion is like a big taboo in Afghanistan.

Reporters Without Borders is a Paris-based NGO that advocates freedom of the press.

 President Harmid Karzai
photo: EPA
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