Death sentence against Mr. Sayed Pervez Kambaksh overturned but replaced with 20 years in prison- AFG 001 / 0208 / OBS 023.1

23/10/2008
Urgent Appeal

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the decision by the Kabul Appeal Court to overturn the death sentence against Mr. Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, a 23 year-old reporter for the newspaper Jahan-e Naw ("The New World") and a journalism student at Balkh University, and to sentence him instead to 20 years in prison.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Afghanistan.


New information:

According to the information received, on October 21, 2008, the Kabul Appeal Court struck down the death sentence that had been pronounced against Mr. Kambakhsh in January after he was arrested in October 2007 for having distributed a document criticising the Koran and its views on women’s rights to his journalism class (See background information). However, the Appeal Court decided to sentence Mr. Kambakhsh to 20 years’ imprisonment for "blasphemy". Mr. Kambakhsh’s lawyer has filed an appeal, which is expected to be heard by the Supreme Court on October 26, 2008.

Although the Observatory welcomes the decision to overturn Mr. Kambakhsh’s sentence to death, it expresses its deepest concern about his sentence to 20 years in prison, as it appears to be directly aimed at sanctioning his activities in favour of human rights. The Observatory also considers that the deprivation of Mr. Kambaksh’s liberty results from the exercise of rights or freedoms guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and is therefore arbitrary.

Background information:

On October 27, 2007, Mr. Sayed Pervez Kambaksh was arrested for reportedly downloading and distributing among fellow students a controversial article commenting on Koranic verses about women’s rights. He was subsequently detained in Mazar-i-Sharif, awaiting trial for "blasphemy and distribution of texts defamatory of Islam". In addition, Mr. Kambakhsh’s arrest came after his brother published a series of articles voicing concerns about local leaders and warlords.

On January 22, 2008, Mr. Kambaksh was sentenced to death for blasphemy by a court of Mazar-i-Sharif. The trial was held behind closed doors, without any lawyer defending him. Mr. Kambakhsh was convicted under Article 347 of the Penal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, not the death penalty. Mr. Kambaksh appealed the ruling but remained in custody in the course of the proceedings.

On January 30, 2008, the President of the Afghan Senate issued a statement supporting the sentence to death, which was challenged by another statement of a group of Afghan senators.

The hearing in Mr. Kambakhsh’s appeal began on May 18, 2008. Normally, under Article 6 of the Interim Criminal Procedure Code, an appeal must last no more than two months, after which the appellant must be released, whether or not the proceedings have reached a conclusion. Mr. Kambaksh should therefore have been released on July 18.


Actions requested:

Please write to the Afghan authorities and ask them to:

1. Take all necessary measures to guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Sayed Pervez Kambaksh;
2. Release him immediately and unconditionally since his deprivation of liberty is arbitrary as it seems to directly aim at sanctioning his human rights activities;
3. Put an end to any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Kambaksh as well as against all human rights defenders in Afghanistan;
4. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Article 1, which states that "everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels", Article 6.b, which provides that "everyone has the right, individually and in association with others [...] freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms", and Article 12.2, which provides that "the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration";
5. More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Afghanistan.

Addresses:

* His Excellency Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, Presidential Palace, Kabul, Afghanistan, Email: president@afghanistangov.org
* Mr. Mohammad Ishaq Alako, Attorney General of Afghanistan
* Mr. Sarwar Danish, Minister of Justice of Afghanistan
* Mr. Abdul Salaam Azimi, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Afghanistan, aquddus@supremecourt.gov.af

As it might be very difficult to send letters and emails to Afghanistan, kindly send your reactions to the following diplomatic representations of Afghanistan, as well as to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Afghanistan in your respective countries.

* Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the United Nations in Geneva, 63 rue de Lausanne, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: + 41 22 731 45 10. Email: mission.afghanistan@bluewin.ch
* Diplomatic Representation of Afghanistan to the European Union in Brussels, 61 avenue de Wolvendael, 1180 Uccle, Belgium. Fax: + 32 2 761 31 67. Email: ambassade.afghanistan@skynet.be

Geneva - Paris, October 23, 2008

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need. The Observatory was the winner of the 1998 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 20 11 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

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