The International Herald Tribune reports that the Supreme Court of the country formally known as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has upheld a 20-year prison sentence for an Afghan university student accused of blasphemy. His alleged crime? Writing and distributing an article criticizing the role of women in Islam.
The 24-year-old student, Parwiz Kambakhsh, was sentenced to death in 2007 after accusations that he had written and distributed the article in question. Last year a Kabul appeals court commuted the death sentence to 20 years’ imprisonment. Kambakhsh disclaims authorship of the article, saying he downloaded it from the Internet.
Kambakhsh’s lawyers and his family say he has been denied a fair trial. Afzal Nooristani, a defense lawyer for Kambakhsh, said that he "was not allowed to talk with the judges and officials, which is a complete violation of law." Kambakhsh’s defense team and his family only learned about the Supreme Court’s decision recently. The decision was made in in secret on February 12, and only came to light when the attorney general’s office issued orders to enforce it.
According to the Tribune, Kambakhsh’s brother issued a statement decrying "the tragic level of justice in Afghanistan today. It is just a make-believe system of justice and humanitarianism. The reality is that the Afghan government and judiciary, although supported by the U.S., the UN, the EU and other democracies worldwide, is morally bankrupt." Human rights organizations and many Western diplomats agree: although Afghan president Hamid Karzai has made assurances of freedoms of press and speech, the Afghan news media has suffered from threats and attacks from the Taliban and pressure from the Afghan government . Karzai’s critics allege that he is unwilling to cross religious clerics in an election year.