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Publisher sentenced to 20 years in prison for publishing Dari translation of Qur'an without Arabic script

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

Kambakhsh Joins Fellow Afghan Media Worker Zelmay in Prison for Twenty Years

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) welcomes the overturning of a death sentence of young journalist Sayed Parvez Kambakhsh at his appeal hearing in Kabul on October 21 as an encouraging step towards justice but demands a full withdrawal of all charges.

The IFJ reiterates the message to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai by the Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA), an IFJ affiliate, and the Committee to Protect Afghan Journalists (CPAJ) to follow through on a commitment he made to the country's two leading journalists' organisations to intervene in this case.

A Kabul appeals court replaced the death penalty with a 20-year prison sentence.

Kambakhsh, 24, was arrested on October 27, 2007 for reported insolence to Islam in the northern Afghan city of Mazhar-e-Sharif, where he worked as a journalist for the daily newspaper "Janan-e-Naw."

On January 22, 2008 Kambakhsh was sentenced to death by Balkh primary court in a closed door hearing where he was denied legal representation. The trial lasted 4 minutes, the AIJA reports.

More than twenty IFJ affiliates from across the Asia-Pacific region issued a joint statement on February 2, 2008 calling on President Karzai to uphold the spirit of the Afghanistan Constitution's stated aim of defending the fundamental freedoms of the people of Afghanistan, including freedom of expression.

However, repeated delays to an appeal hearing, due to be held on May 25, 2008, and reports of mistreatment and torture of Kambakhsh have marred appeals to the Afghanistan courts for fair judicial process to be applied.

In a similar case, Ahmad Ghous Zelmay, an independent publisher and former spokesman for the Afghan attorney-general, was arrested by police on November 4, 2007, in the Torkhum area near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Zelmay is reportedly accused of publishing a Dari translation of the Qur'an without its Arabic script.

On September 13, 2008, 10 months after his arrest, Zelmay was sentenced by a primary court in Kabul to 20 years in prison. His colleague Mullah Qari Mushtaq received the same sentence.

In March 2008, the AIJA and CPAJ found that Zelmay lived in confined quarters without regular access to daylight and suffered acute depression.

"The sentencing of both Kambakhsh and Zelmay points to a serious malfunction in the application of each individual's right to a fair trial and appeal process under Afghanistan's justice system," IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

"In a country where freedom of expression is constitutionally enshrined, no journalist or indeed any person who accesses or publishes publicly available information should face death or life imprisonment."

The IFJ joins with the AIJA and the CPAJ in demanding that Afghanistan ensure the safe and unconditional release of both Kambakhsh and Zelmay in honour of Article 34 of Afghanistan's constitution, which states "freedom of expression shall be inviolable".

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide.

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