Free Afghan Student Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh
The undersigned members and friends of English PEN would like to express their outrage at the twenty-year sentence handed down to 24-year-old SAYED PARWEZ KAMBAKHSH. Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, a journalism student and reporter for the local daily Jahan-e-Naw (The New World) was arrested on 27 October 2007 for distributing a pamphlet about women's rights, of which he was not the author. He was also reportedly accused of possessing allegedly anti-Islamic books and starting un-Islamic debates in his classes. He is feared to have been targeted for association with 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. Kambakhsh was tried on 22 January 2008 and sentenced to death for 'blasphemy'. The trial was reportedly held behind closed doors, and he had no legal representation. After several months in prison, where it is believed that he signed a confession under torture, a Kabul appeal court commuted the death sentence but decided to uphold his conviction for blasphemy, sentencing the 24-year-old to twenty years in jail on 21 October 2008. We are shocked by the sentence, particularly in light of the fact that, according to legal experts, the court 'had no right to "arbitrarily" impose a jail term.' Kambakhsh's lawyer has filed an appeal against his conviction which was expected to be heard by the Supreme Court on Sunday 26 October 2008. We have had no further information about this appeal hearing, and believe that it may have been delayed, as his previous appeal hearing was on a number of occasions. Kambakhsh has already spent almost a year in jail, and his health is said to be seriously deteriorating as a result of poor prison conditions and severe psychological stress. We are calling for President Karzai to intervene to secure his immediate and unconditional release in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.