Stakes rise in Afghan journalist’s blasphemy case

January 30, 2008

When we wrote about the death sentence for blasphemy against Afghan journalist Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh two days ago, it seemed the case was set to trudge through the appeals system and land up at the Supreme Court in Kabul. That, at least, is what his brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, told us. Now the upper house of the Afghan Parliament has raised the stakes in a way that may turn this into a messy tussle between Afghanistan and the Western countries trying to help prevent it becoming a failed state.

The upper house, known as the Meshrano Jirga (Elders House), has issued a statement backing the death sentence passed by a court in Mazar-i-Sharif and strongly criticising the international community for putting pressure on Kabul over the case. No excerpts from the statement have appeared online yet but sSibghatullah Mojadeddi (R) and President Hamid Karzai, 4 Jan. 2004/Ahmad Masoodome reports say it was signed by the house leader Sibghatullah Mojaddedi. He was the first president of Afghanistan after the fall of communism there in 1992. During his exile in Peshawar in the 1980s, he was the head of the so-called “moderate alliance” of three mujahideen parties that were believed to be less Islamst than the seven-party “fundamentalist alliance”. However, these two labels were relative, as are many terms and titles in Afghanistan.

The upper house has no legal role in this but, by speaking out, it puts pressure on President Hamid Karzai not to pardon Kambakhsh at any point during the appeals process. It also sends a signal to the appeals and supreme court.

iwpr.gifThe Institute for War and Peace Reporting argues the case is political and meant to punish Kambakhsh’s brother Yaqub, who has written about alleged human rights abuses in Afghanistan for the institute.


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Thanks for keeping tabs on this story. It does sound political but it seems to be more than just attempted punishment for his brother.

For Afghanistan to have any chance, Karzai and courts must not buckle and must not fudge in order to save face(although I suspect Kamhakhsh – should he ever be released – will have to leave the country for his own safety, regardless).

However, as I learnt during the Rahman case, a lot of the judiciary is not quite competent, trained in the idea of an independent judiciary, or even literate. And well there are the ever present extremists.

Posted by saint | Report as abusive

I’m afraid this article betrays supreme ignorance as to the political leanings of Afghan leaders as well as falling into the common trap of listening to Afghan hearsay.

There is a long standing tradition of slander and false attribution of positions to public figures in Afghanistan. If you were to go to five different neighborhoods or even five different homes within the same neighborhood in Kabul, you’d probably get five different accounts of the same political leader’s actions in regards to any particular issue. For that matter, gossip doesn’t pass for legitimate news anywhere in the world.

Point in case: if you had been following Sibghatullah Mojaddedi’s career up until this point (and if you were to claim any particular authority on Afghan politics since the Soviet invasion, you would have to have), you would have seen that, despite being a religious leader, his stance on political issues actually has been fairly consistently moderate. A claim that he would support the death sentence in a heresy case is nothing short of ridiculous.

What Mojaddedi DOES DO however, which might have confused you as to his political proclivities, is frame his positions in religious context, which is to say he makes no show of separation of religion and state. He is an advocate of Sharia law, but has consistently shot down attempts to enact harsh provisions, such as openly opposing the Abdul Rahman Christian convert case.

That case is directly analagous to this one in that it is an incident of heresy whereby the strict interpretation of the Sharia would have justified the death sentence. It might not be satisfying to a western audience, but Mojaddedi did not oppose this sentence on the grounds that the Sharia was in some way flawed or misguided in providing this provision.

Rather, he reasoned that the Afghan government (and, in effect, any government) cannot be qualified to make such a judgment (from a religious or a legal perspective) regarding a person in order to justify enacting that punishment. Again, not very satisfying to those who feel the law is fundamentally flawed, but it is a far more effective line of reasoning in the Afghan political sphere.

A political leader who said a particular religious provision was wrong would not make it very far in Afghanistan; only one who has the authority to assure that a religious provision is not pratically applicable can fight religious extremism as Mojaddedi has.

Posted by Podari | Report as abusive