International PEN is delighted to learn that Afghan journalist Sayed Parvez Kambakhsh has been freed under a presidential pardon. His release was confirmed by the Ministry of Justice on September 7, 2009, although he was reportedly freed two weeks ago and has been granted asylum in an as yet unidentified European country. Kambakhsh had been detained since October 27, 2007, and was serving a 20-year prison sentence for blasphemy. His release is believed to be the direct result of a sustained joint diplomatic effort by Afghan activists and international pressure, led by Danish, Norwegian and Canadian PEN.

Background Information

According to PEN’s information, 23-year-old Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, a 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, northern Afghanistan for distributing allegedly anti-Islamic literature. He was detained by National Directorate of Security (NDS) forces on blasphemy charges after allegedly downloading and distributing to friends an article that said the Prophet Mohammed ignored women’s rights. Kambakhsh was not the author of the article. He was also reportedly accused of possessing allegedly anti-Islamic books and starting un-Islamic debates in his classes.
Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh was tried by an Islamic court in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh Province, on January 22, 2008, and sentenced to death. The trial was reportedly held behind closed doors, and he had no legal representation. On October 21, 2008, a Kabul appeals court commuted the death sentence but upheld his conviction for "blasphemy."  The sentence was upheld on appeal by the Supreme Court in a closed hearing in early February 2009. Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh is thought  to have been 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.

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