Afghanistan

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The Independent, UK has launched a campaign to secure the freedom of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh. On Tuesday, a provincial court in Afghanistan sentenced the 23 year old journalism student to death for downloading a report that is said to defend women’s rights against misinterpretations of the Koran and teachings of the prophet Mohammed. The Afghan Senate, before reportedly reversing its position, initially approved the sentence in a motion on Wednesday and urged Hamid Karzai to resist international pressure to intervene.

CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and others reported the case, but none came as close as The Independent in rightly placing blame for this atrocity on Karzai’s failed leadership – and the west’s support of him. Both the UN and President Bush praised the loya jirga in 2004 when it adopted a Constitution the US Commission on International Religious Freedom described as “Taliban-lite.” Article 130 specifically makes fundamentalist religious law an official source of legal authority. Kambaksh’s sentence might be extreme, but could have been expected.

Nor did the bulk of western news reports place Kambaksh’s conviction within the larger context of human rights abuses occurring in Afghanistan, which ranks 142nd on Reporters Without Borders’ 2007 world press index. In fact, not CNN, not MSNBC, not Fox News, not The New York Times, not The Washington Post, nor any other major US media outlet (that I have seen), has reprinted Malalai Joya’s post from the The Independent on Thursday demanding Kambaksh’s release, an end to the inexcusable oppression of women and, more fundamentally, a complete purge of the corrupt Afghan government:

After six years in control, this government has proved itself to be as bad as the Taliban – in fact, it is little more than a photocopy of the Taliban. The situation in Afghanistan is getting progressively worse – and not just for women, but for all Afghans.

Our country is being run by a mafia, and while it is in power there is no hope for freedom for the people of Afghanistan. How can anyone, man or woman, enjoy basic freedoms when living under the shadow of warlords? The government was not democratically elected, and it is now trying to use the country’s Islamic law as a tool with which to limit women’s rights.

In 2007 more women killed themselves in Afghanistan than ever before – that shows that the situation hasn’t got any better. The murder of women in Afghanistan is like the killing of birds, because this government is anti-women. Women are vulnerable – recently a 22-year-old woman was raped in front of her children by 15 local commanders of a fundamentalist party, closely connected to the government. The commanders then urinated in the face of the children. These things happen frequently.

I utterly condemn this undemocratic act of those in power against Sayed Pervez Kambaksh. This situation has exposed the corruption of the government, which is inherently undemocratic, which does not believe in women’s rights and which is willing to go to extreme lengths to prevent freedom of speech. Mr Kambaksh has not broken any law, but he is a “real” journalist, one who is not afraid to write articles exposing the corruption of the fundamentalists in power. This has been a bloody year for journalists in Afghanistan, and they are now in a lot of danger.

If Mr Kambaksh is killed for his “crime”, then tomorrow it will be someone else. The situation that the press is faced with gives you a clear indication of the level of freedom and democracy in the country as a whole.

Malalai Joya you might recall was elected to the National Assembly in 2005 and booted in 2007 after standing up to “warlords” in Parliament. She is also a vocal critic of western involvement in Afghanistan, which perhaps explains why the US government has not demanded that she be reinstated.

Freedom of speech, women’s equality and democratic legitimacy were promised to the people of Afghanistan at the dawn of the invasion in 2001. Six years gone, and Sayed Kambaksh’s persecution shows the promise has been broken. But Kambaksh is not the only one on trial here. So is Karzai’s government. And so is the west.

-Kathleen A. Bergin

(cross post:  First Amendment Law Prof Blog)

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