Afghanistan: civil society stands up to political Islam

Some 200 Afghans protested at the UN office in Kabul Jan. 31 against the death sentence passed against Perwiz Kambakhsh, a reporter convicted of blasphemy. The protest was organized by the small Solidarity Party of Afghanistan. The upper house of parliament said the previous day it backed the sentence against Kambakhsh. “This statement by Afghan lawmakers is a shocking confirmation of intolerance and a lack of respect for free speech,” the International Federation of Journalists said, calling on its members to urge President Hamid Karzai to overturn the sentence. (Reuters, Jan. 31)

Kambaksh, 23, reporter for the Jahan-i-Naw (New World) newspaper, distributed a tract calling for greater rights for women to fellow students and teachers at Balkh University with the aim, he said, of provoking a debate on the matter. The MP who proposed the ruling condemning Kambaksh was Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, a key ally of President Karzai. (The Independent, Jan. 31)

On Jan. 29. some 500 women—many clad in burqas— marched in Kandahar to demand the release of a kidnapped US aid worker, Cyd Mizell, who was abducted three days earlier with her Afghan driver Muhammad Hadi from a residential neighborhood. The protest was organized by the Kandahar Women’s Association, whose leader Rona Tareen said: “Her kidnapping is against our culture and tradition. We demand the kidnappers free her immediately.” Mizell’s employer, Asian Rural Life Development Foundation (ARLDF), is a community-development organization based in the Philippines. (AKI, Jan. 30; AlJazeera, Jan. 29)

It was not immediately clear that the Taliban is behind the attack. “All I can say that she is missing. I was not informed from any Taliban quarter that she was abducted by the Taliban,” a Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmedi, told the Italian news agency AKI by telephone. (AKI, Jan. 30)

Hajji Pir Muhammad, deputy governor of Helmand province and five others were killed by a suicide bomber during afternoon prayers in a mosque in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah Jan. 30. At least 21, including a 5-year-old boy, were wounded. The Taliban claimed responsibility through a spokesman. (NYT, Feb. 1)

See our last posts on Afghanistan and women in Afghanistan.

  1. Reprieve for Afghan journalist?
    From The Independent, Feb. 2:

    In a dramatic volte-face, the Afghan Senate has withdrawn its confirmation of a death sentence on Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the student convicted of blasphemy for downloading a report on women’s rights from the internet.

    The move follows widespread international protests and appeals to the President, Hamid Karzai, after the case was highlighted by The Independent and more than 38,000 readers signed our petition to secure justice for Mr Kambaksh. In Britain, the Foreign Secretary David Miliband, the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and the shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, backed the campaign, and there have been demonstrations in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

    The first ruling by the Senate supporting the death sentence on Mr Kambaksh by a religious court in Mazar-i-Sharif in the north of the country, was proposed by Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, a key ally of President Karzai, and was seen as a severe blow to the 23-year-old journalism student’s chances of avoiding execution. The new stance, in which the Senate calls its previous decision “a technical mistake”, significantly raises hopes that he will eventually be freed.

    Mr Kambaksh’s family and friends had complained that he was not allowed legal representation at his trial, which was held in secret. Fundamentalist Muslim clerics say he should not have access to the normal right of appeal under the state because he was convicted of the religious crime of blasphemy. The Senate statement yesterday explicitly recognised that the student should have the right to a defence lawyer as well as the right to appeal.