January 31, 2008

President of the Islamic State of Afghanistan
His Excellency Hamid Karzai
c/o Said T. Jawad
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Afghanistan
Embassy of Afghanistan
2341 Wyoming Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 483-6488

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the 3,400 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our grave concern regarding the death sentence passed down to journalist Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh.

According to our information, Mr. Kambakhsh, a 23-year-old journalism student at Balkh University and reporter for the local daily Jahan-e-Naw (The New World), was arrested on October 27, 2007, in Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh province, for distributing allegedly anti-Islamic literature. He was detained by National Directorate of Security forces on blasphemy charges after downloading and giving to friends an article that allegedly said the Prophet Mohammed ignored women’s rights. He was not the author of the article. He was also reportedly accused of possessing anti-Islamic books and starting un-Islamic debates in his classes. While Kambakhsh admits to circulating the article, he denies the accusations.

On January 22, 2008, he was tried by an Islamic court, convicted of blasphemy, and sentenced to death. The trial was reportedly held behind closed doors, and he had no legal representation.

PEN American Center is seriously concerned about the circumstances surrounding the charges and sentencing of Mr. Kambakhsh and believes that he has been convicted in violation of his right to free expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Afghan law. We therefore respectfully ask for his immediate and unconditional release.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula                   
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee   

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

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