IWPR Project Review

Freed Afghan Journalist Thanks IWPR

  • Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh. Picture taken at the Kabul Appellate Court, October 2008. (Photo: IWPR)

IWPR coverage of the imprisonment of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, a young journalism student detained for downloading information about the position of women in Islam, was praised by Kambakhsh himself following his release from detention. 

Kambakhsh, who spent nearly two years in prison, is the brother of veteran IWPR journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, who believes that his brother's incarceration was aimed at punishing Yaqub for his reporting about social ills in northern Afghanistan.

IWPR became a resource on the case for much of the rest of the media. Programme director Jean MacKenzie commented frequently on developments for media outlets, as well as documenting the trial for the IWPR website.

Kambakhsh said, "I saw very strong media support for my case but I know IWPR started coverage of it internationally and followed it until the end. I really appreciate IWPR and the rest of the media and organisations that defend journalists. You declared worldwide that an innocent person had been punished. As just one small member of the media, I am really grateful."

Unfortunately, Yaqub left the country in the wake of his brother's release, a sad testament to the status of Afghan journalists in Afghanistan.

To campaigners for journalists' rights, the Kambakhsh case was a rare glimmer of hope and IWPR's role was key. Bob Dietz, Asia Programme Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists, told IWPR, "The Kambakhsh story is one of the few successes that we have had out of Afghanistan, where pressure is mounting daily on journalists. IWPR played a lead role in reporting his case, and its coverage has to be considered a fundamental factor in the international response that led to this young man's release."

"I saw very strong media support for my case but I know IWPR started coverage of it internationally and followed it until the end."
Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh

Another group that defends journalists, Reporters Without Borders, also welcomed Kambakhsh's release.

"We hail Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh's release with deep emotion," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said in a statement. "After being held for nearly two years, he now needs to be able to rebuild his life. We pay tribute to all the free speech activists in Afghanistan and abroad who never stopped defending his innocence and pressing for his release."

The case of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh became an international cause celebre involving heads of state, top diplomats, and human rights organisations. Finally, in the wake of Afghanistan's contentious August presidential elections, President Hamed Karzai made good on pledges to a range of figures from Condoleezza Rice to Kambakhsh's immediate family, and issued a pardon.

Kambakhsh was arrested in October 2007 in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. The charges against him involved downloading controversial materials on women's position in Islam from the internet and distributing them to his classmates at Balkh University.  

IWPR coverage of Kambakhsh's case:
Kambakhsh Freed

Afghan Supreme Court Rejects Blasphemy Appeal
Kambakhsh to Fight On
Journalists Demand Justice for Kambakhsh
Saving Parwez Kambakhsh
Hopes Dashed for Afghan Journalist’s Release
Kabul Marchers Demand Journalist Release
Afghan Journalist’s Death Sentence “Political"
IWPR Condemns Afghan Journalist’s Death Sentence
Afghan Reporter Sentenced to Death for Blasphemy

Kambakhsh denies the allegations, despite a confession he signed during the early days of his incarceration, when he was held incommunicado by the security services. He claims he was subjected to intense interrogation and even torture, although physical abuse could not be substantiated because of the period of time that elapsed between the alleged beatings and medical examination.

Kambakhsh was condemned to death in a closed court session in January 2008.

The 20 months that followed were agony for Kambakhsh and his family. Ibrahimi tried for months to find a qualified lawyer and get the case moved to Kabul, where the family felt they would get a fairer trial.

The case that unfolded in the Kabul Appellate Court during the summer months of 2008 was regarded as a travesty by Kambakhsh's supporters. It was adjourned several times, once for medical expertise following Kambakhsh's allegations of torture, once to summon witnesses, other times for no stated reason at all.

In October 2008, the Appellate Court commuted Kambakhsh's sentence to 20 years in prison. The actual criminal charges were unclear: he was accused of heresy.

The case has been stalled for nearly a year. The diplomatic community intensified its pressure after Afghanistan's Supreme Court upheld the 20-year sentence in March, but the looming elections put a brake on attempts to free the young man.

Ahead of the poll, Karzai was thought to be courting the ultra-conservative mullahs, most of whom would have been happy to see Kambakhsh put to death.

But then, just days after the August 20 elections, he issued the pardon that everyone had been waiting for.