October 22, 2008

His Excellency Hamid Karzai
President of the Islamic State of Afghanistan
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 3,300 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to protest the sentence imposed on journalist Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh.

According to our information, Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, a 23-year-old student and reporter for the local daily Jahan-e-Naw, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Kabul appeal court on October 21, 2008, which commuted the death sentence, but upheld his conviction for “blasphemy.” His lawyer has filed an appeal, which is expected to be heard by the Supreme Court on October 26, 2008.

Kambakhsh was arrested on October 27, 2007 in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif for distributing anti-Islamic literature after downloading and giving to friends an article that allegedly said the Prophet Mohammed ignored women’s rights. He was also reportedly accused of possessing anti-Islamic books and starting un-Islamic debates in his classes. Kambakhsh was tried behind closed doors and without legal representation by an Islamic court in Mazar-i-Sharif on January 22, 2008, and sentenced to death. He claims to have signed a confession under torture. Following the appeal hearing, Kambakhsh was transferred to Pul-i-Charkhi prison, where conditions are reportedly very harsh, and there are serious concerns for his deteriorated health. Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh is feared to be targeted because of his brother, prominent journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, who works for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting and has been under escalating pressure for his critical reporting on local officials and warlords.

PEN American Center is shocked by the 20-year sentence handed down to Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh on blasphemy charges and calls upon you to personally intervene to secure his immediate and unconditional release in accordance with Afghan law and Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Thank you for your attention to this very urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula                   
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee   

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

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