A student in Afghanistan downloads a report on women’s rights from the internet; he is arrested and sentenced to death for blasphemy by an Islamic court. This happened not under the Taliban but in October last year, under the pro-Western regime of Hamid Karzai.
Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, a 23 year old who was studying journalism at Balkh University in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, downloaded a report from an Iranian website which stated that Islamists who claim the Koran justifies the oppression of women are distorting the teachings of Islam. When he circulated it to his fellow students and teachers to provoke debate, a complaint was made was apparently made against him and he was arrested and tried by a religious court — in secret, and without the right to legal representation.
Hundreds of Afghans demonstrated in the streets to free him, but the upper house of the Afghan parliament responded instead by passing a resolution endorsing the death sentence — putting the judiciary under massive pressure to resist an appeal. Prominent clerics have organised pro-death penalty demonstrations and argued that, since he was convinced of blasphemy, Afghanistan’s supreme court has no power to interfere with the ruling. Now, though the senate has rescinded its resolution, claiming it was a “technical mistake”, Kambaksh is still in prison and facing the death sentence.
This is not just a matter of clerical intolerance and bigotry. There are also reports suggesting that Kambaksh and his brother had upset local warlords with their investigative reporting into corruption and abuses of power. The clerics and warlords who run the Afghan state want to silence dissenting voices, just as they did when they expelled Malalai Joya, a militant democrat and one of Afghanistan’s few female MPs, from parliament for criticising them in 2005.
The fate facing Pervez Kambaksh is an outrage — and a reminder of the foolishness of both those leftists who backed the US/UK invasion of Afghanistan in the name of secularism and democracy, and those who downplay the threat posed by political Islam. We should mobilise to secure not only the withdrawal of the death sentence, but his acquittal — and make solidarity with Afghans fighting for democracy against their country’s Western-backed warlord-Islamist state.