Afghan reporter facing death sentence denies blasphemy

KABUL (AFP) — An Afghan journalist sentenced to death on blasphemy charges pleaded not guilty during his appeal hearing that started in capital Kabul on Sunday.

The court hearing Parwiz Kambakhsh’s appeal gave him until next Sunday to present his defence statement against the primary provincial court’s ruling in January.

“The court gives you one week to prepare your defence,” Abdul Salam Qazizada, the appeal judge said.

Kambakhsh, a reporter for a newspaper called Jahan-e Naw (“The New World”), and a journalism student at Balkh University, said he would be represented at his next hearing by a lawyer.

He also told the judge that his first trial was “unjust” because he was given only three minutes to defend himself.

The 23-year-old journalist denied the charges, saying: “I’m a Muslim and will never allow myself to insult my religion.”

Kambakhsh, who read out verses from the Koran, added: “I was forced to sign the allegation papers. I was tortured (by security forces) and had no other choice to accept the allegations.”

Kambakhsh was sentenced to death by a court in the northern Afghan province of Balkh in January, raising an outcry from international and Afghan media rights groups.

He had downloaded from the Internet and distributed among his fellow students articles that were said to question some of the tenets of Islam, including those related to the role of women.

Kambakhsh was held for three months before his trial, which reportedly only lasted minutes. Media groups inside and outside the country have asked President Hamid Karzai to intervene.

Afghanistan’s media has blossomed since the 2001 ouster of the extremist Taliban regime which stifled the media and handed out harsh punishments, including death, for violations of a strict code of Islamic behaviour.

The constitution adopted after the fall of the Taliban enshrines international rights and freedoms but is based on Sharia law, which forbids criticism of Islam.


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