FaithWorld

Update: Afghan journalist moved to Kabul for blasphemy appeal

Men cross street in Kabul after a rain shower, 26 March 2008//Ahmad MasoodJust a quick update on a case we’ve talked about here before: Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, the 23-year-old Afghan journalist sentenced to death for blasphemy and other crimes against Islam, has been moved to Kabul for his appeal against that verdict. Reporters without Borders (RsF) says he was moved on March 27.

“His request for transfer to Kabul has finally succeeded, allowing Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh to be separated from other detainees in the vast Pul-i-Charki jail, in the east of the capital,” RsF said in a statement . “His transfer to Kabul has given rise to hopes that his appeal will not be influenced by religious fundamentalists, as was the case when he was sentenced to death for “blasphemy” by a court in Mazar-i-Sharif, on 22 January 2008.”

The appeals trial is due soon but it’s not yet clear when.

Arab states’ guidelines for sat TV coverage of religion

Satellite dishes in Algiers, 3 April 2004/Jack DabaghianArab Media and Society has published an English translation of the Arab League’s Satellite Broadcasting Charter approved by Arab governments at a meeting in Cairo in February, along with contrasting opinions of the charter widely criticised by advocates of media freedom. In essence, the charter incorporates restrictions which most Arab governments already apply to their own terrestrial broadcasters and to satellite broadcasters which operate from their territory. But the governments have tended to give the satellite broadcasters a little more freedom than they allow terrestrial broadcasters, most of which are state-owned.

The operative clauses for religious broadcasting are clauses 9 and 10 of article 6:

9. To comply with the religious and ethical values of Arab society and maintain its family ties and social integrity.

Afghan journalist in blasphemy case says trial took only four minutes

sayed-perwiz-kambakhsh.jpgSayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, the 23-year-old Afghan journalist sentenced to death for blasphemy and other crimes against Islam, has told the London daily The Independent in his first interview since the verdict that his trial for downloading a report on women’s rights from the Internet was over in only four minutes. Independent correspondent Kim Sengupta spoke to Kambakhsh at his prison in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sherif. Here is the interview and an editorial by the newspaper, which has launched a petition for Kambakhsh’s release that has got 88,500 signatures so far.

Spokesman says Karzai has last word in Afghan blasphemy case

Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, 24 Jan. 2008/Wolfgang RattayReports so far about the death penalty against journalist Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh have said that President Hamid Karzai could pardon him if the sentence is upheld by the Afghan courts. Now, a presidential spokesman has said that the president must confirm or reject any death sentence before it is imposed. So if this case goes down to the wire, Karzai will have to decide one way or the other. That sounds positive for Kambakhsh, because Karzai (no matter what he thinks about the verdict) is presumably open to pressure from Western allies not to carry out the sentence.

Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak has said he doubts Kambakhsh will be executed. There has been a demonstration in Kabul demanding freedom for the young journalist, whose brother Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi wrote an article for IWPR about it.

This new twist comes a few days after the Afghan Senate withdrew its statement of support for the death sentence on blasphemy charges for Kambakhsh. A spokesman said simply that the publication of the statement was “a technical error.” Actually, the Senate has no authority to approve or reject a court decision, so it had no business commenting on the verdict in the first place.

Stakes rise in Afghan journalist’s blasphemy case

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.

A Tale of Two Secularisms

French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Taj Mahal, 26 Jan, 2008/Philippe WojazerFrance and India are two countries that proudly proclaim the secular nature of their democracies. The principles of church-state separation and state neutrality towards religion are the same. But somehow the accents were different when French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited India last week. While they both were dealing with the concept called “secularism” in English, it was clear that Sarkozy’s thinking was based on the French word laïcité while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh clearly had the Hindi term dharmanirpekshta in mind.

The visit focused mostly on expanding investment and defence cooperation, with much gossip on the side about whether the freshly divorced president’s new flame Carla Bruni would join him at the Taj Mahal (much to the chagrin of the paparazzi, she didn’t).

Hidden behind the headlines, though, was a fascinating disagreement about Sarkozy’s plan to present Taslima Nasreen, an exiled Bangladeshi writer living in India, with the “Simone de Beauvoir Prize For Women’s Freedom.” This prize sponsored by CulturesFrance (part Muslim protesters burn effigy of Taslima Nasreen in Kolkata, 20 Jan. 2004/Sucheta Dasof the French Foreign Ministry) and a Paris publisher went this year to Nasreen and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, two women of Muslim background who have been threatened with death by Islamists because of their forceful criticism of the religion.

Where does the Afghan blasphemy case go now?

Sayed Perwiz KambakhshThe case of Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, the young Afghan journalist sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam, is a classic “clash of civilisations” issue pitting the principle of free speech against that of respect for religion. I’ve been trying to find out more details to understand where this case stands and how it should be reported.

First, it looks like this could drag on for quite some time. His brother Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi tells us the family has appealed the decision at a court in Mazar-i-Sharif and will take it to the Supreme Court in Kabul if the appeals court upholds the original verdict.

More information has emerged about the case being made against Kambakhsh. We knew some university classmates had accused him of mocking Islam and the Koran and of distributing an article saying the Prophet Mohammad had ignored women’s rights. According to RFE/RL, the article came from a website based in Europe and run by an Iranian exile whose pen name is Arash Bikhoda. “Bikhoda” means “godless” in Persian.

Concern mounts as Netherlands readies for anti-Islam film

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, 23 June 2007/Yves HermanConcern is mounting in the Netherlands as the country prepares for a film about the Koran by a far-right populist known for his hostility to Islam. It reached the point last Friday that Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende publicly appealed for restraint. A former Malaysian ambassador in The Hague has said the reaction could make the 2006 Danish cartoon controversy look like “a picnic.”

Geert Wilders, who wants to ban the Koran as a “fascist” book and has warned of a “tsunami of Islamisation” in the Netherlands, has proceeded with the film despite warnings from the Dutch justice and foreign ministers. (We blogged on this last November when the warnings came). It’s not clear when it will be broadcast, but it is expected soon. Wilders has denied reports that it will be shown on Friday Jan. 25. There is already a spoof on YouTube.

The last Dutchman who made a film critical of Islam, Theo van Gogh, was murdered by an Islamist radical in 2004. That unleashed a violent anti-Muslim backlash in the Netherlands. Caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in a Danish daily sparked off violent protests in the Muslim world.

Blasphemy and the Beast as Britain debates church-state ties

British judges leave an annual service at Westminster Abbey in London, 3 Oct 2005/Stephen HirdAmong the idiosyncrasies of British life is the fact that this secularised open society has an established church and a law banning blasphemy against it. This anomaly was back in the headlines this week when a member of Parliament tried to abolish the blasphemy law with an amendment to a bill on crime and immigration. With the issue back on the table, another MP submitted a motion to disestablish the Church of England. By a coincidence some might see as a warning, it was listed as motion #666 — the number of the Beast in the Bible’s Book of Revelation, associated with Nero, the Antichrist and other opponents of Christianity.

Change is coming, but it won’t be apocalyptic. After heading off the amendment on the blasphemy ban, the government has pledged to scrap the outdated law against “scurrilous vilification” of the faith after consultation with the Church of England. Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has co-signed a letter to the Daily Telegraph advocating the abolition of a ban “in clear breach of human rights law.” The Church of England has signalled it could accept abolition if the government proceeds with caution.

(UPDATE Jan 12: Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, later said the Church of England “is not going to resist the repeal of the blasphemy laws given their awkward and not very workable legacy at present.”)

Gillian… the teddy… shouts and lashes in the courthouse

Khartoum correspondent Opheera McDoom looks back at the “teddy bear saga”

Gillian Gibbons with son John and daughter Jessica, 5 Dec. 2007The “teddy bear saga” broke on a Monday with the news that Gillian Gibbons had been arrested by authorities. We’re used to stories of people being taken from their homes at night by armed security forces in Khartoum, so I was caught a little by surprise at the immense interest this case attracted. But as the story grew, the world’s press descended on Khartoum and the adrenalin of covering one of the world’s top stories kicked in.

The court case was an agonising and panicked rush in the morning as no one — not even Gibbons’ defence lawyers — was quite sure where the case was going to be heard. Unusually, she was in court the day after charges were pressed . The judge decided to keep going long into the night, and after the busy courthouse had emptied of its usual crowd, before reaching a verdict.