Journalists in Afghanistan, Niger Iran face Death Sentences

Afghan Journalism Student Faces Death Sentence for Downloading Document

A 23-year-old Afghan journalism student was sentenced to death Jan. 22, 2008 for downloading a document from an Iranian Web site that questions the role of women in Islam.

According to reports from Jurist, a legal news Web site run by the University of Pittsburgh, Sayad Parwez Kambaksh received the sentence for bringing papers to class that advocated increased women’s rights in Islamic societies. Other students reported his actions to authorities and claimed he wrote the documents. Kambaksh has denied he was the author.

According to the reports, the court held that the papers were “blasphemy” against Islam, for which death is the appropriate sentence under Article 130 of the Afghan Constitution. Article 130 gives judges discretion to rule in accordance with “Hanafi” jurisprudence when there is no other laws governing the issue.

Hanafi is the oldest and most liberal of four schools of legal thought practiced by Sunni Muslims, a report on the Web site said.

According to a Feb. 25, 2008 report in The Independent of London, Kambaksh was arrested on Oct. 27, 2007 at Jahan-e-Naw, a newspaper where he worked as a reporter. Kambaksh told The Independent that the court convicted him after a four-minute hearing. The hearing was closed, and Kambaksh was not given an opportunity to explain his actions.

“The judges had made up their mind about the case without me. The way they talked to me, looked at me, was the way they look at a condemned man. I wanted to say ‘this is wrong, please listen to me,’ but I was given no chance to explain,” Kambasksh told The Independent from his jail cell in Mazar-I-Sharif, Afghanistan.

According to The Independent, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has faced international pressure to pardon Kambaksh, but he has said he will not act on the controversy, at least until the appeals process is complete.

Afghan authorities have promised Kambaksh the chance to appeal the ruling in open court with the aid of an attorney, a Feb. 19, 2008 story in The Independent said.

French Journalists Released from Prison in Niger

Two French journalists were released from prison in Niger on Jan. 18, 2008 after being held for more than a month on suspicion of threatening state security, an offense punishable by death. Formal charges were not filed until the day before their release on 15,000 euros bail each.

Cameraman Thomas Dandois and reporter Pierre Creisson were first detained in northern Niger Dec. 17, 2007 for trying to report on Tuareg rebels, a Jan. 17, 2008 Associated Press (AP) report said. The two men had permission from Nigerien officials to travel in southern and central portions of the country to report on bird flu, but northern Niger was closed to foreigners in 2007 due to the ongoing rebellion. The reporters were arrested while traveling in the closed area on assignment for the television station Arte.

A representative from Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF or Reporters without Borders) traveled to Niamey, Niger with a brother of each detained journalist to negotiate their release, a January 17 report on RSF’s Web site said. The group returned to Paris January 17 and reported that Dandois and Creisson were being “treated well by local standards” and that they were optimistic that the journalists would be released soon.

On January 18, RSF posted a news release on its Web site announcing the journalists had been freed. Dandois and Creisson arrived in Paris the next day. “We are happy and relieved for them, their families and their friends. We thank all the journalists, diplomats and politicians in Niamey, Paris and elsewhere who rallied to their [defense],” RSF said in the news release.

Al-Hassane Abdourahman, the journalists’ driver, was released without paying bail on Jan. 22, 2008. He had been charged with “complicity” in helping Dandois and Creisson threaten state security, an RSF report said.

According to RSF, Nigerien journalists Moussa Kaka and Ibrahim Manzo Diallo remain in prison for similar offenses related to the Tuareg rebellion. Kaka is a correspondent for Radio France Internationale and Diallo is an editor for Aïr Info.

Iranian Journalist Accused of Terrorism Faces Death Penalty

The Iranian Judiciary sentenced journalist Yaghoob Mirnehad to death in February 2008, accusing him of membership in the terrorist group Jundallah, The New York Times reported.

According to a Feb. 21, 2008 Times report, Mirnehad was arrested with five other men in southeastern Iran in May 2007 . The rest of the men have since been released.

Mirnehad is a reporter for the Tehran-based newspaper Mardomsalari. He also runs a charity that supports childhood education, New York’s Newsday reported Feb. 20, 2008.

Jundallah, which means “God’s brigade,” is a Sunni group based in the Iranian province Sistan va Baluchistan that has been associated with terrorist attacks in Iran, including one that killed 11 Revolutionary Guards in 2007, The Times’ report said. Mirnehad is an ethnic Baluchi, but his alleged involvement with Jundallah was not explained.

According to a Feb. 20, 2008 AP report, the sentence can be appealed to Iran’s Supreme Court.

– Michael Schoepf
Silha Research Assistant



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