In Afghanistan a 23 year old journalism student downloaded an article that, according to Afghan judges "misinterpreted the verses of the Koran" and then he distributed these writings to other students. For this act of "blasphemy" Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh has been sentenced to death.
For those who are appalled by the treatment of women in Islamic societies, it is important to note that article in question specifically criticized the Koran's teachings about women.
Kambakhsh didn't write the article, he just made copies and discussed the articles with fellow students. It's exactly the kind of intellectual discussion and debate encouraged by institutions of higher learning around the world.
Can you imagine not being allowed to discuss the role of women at an American University?
Can you imagine a journalism school forbidding reading of any article or report?
Reporters Without Borders was outraged that Afghan judges completely ignored the new Afghanistan Constitution that specifically protects Freedom of the Press.
“We are deeply shocked by this trial, carried out in haste and without any concern for the law or for free expression, which is protected by the constitution,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Kambakhsh did not do anything to justify his being detained or being given this sentence. We appeal to President Hamid Karzai to intervene before it is too late.”
But Afghanistan officials defended the verdict and even went so far as to threaten other reporters who might protest the decision with arrest.
"This was not a violation of human rights or press freedom, not a violation of rights of a journalist," Balkh Province Attorney-General Hafizullah Khaliqyar says. "[Kambakhsh] violated the values of Islam. He did not make a journalistic mistake; he insulted our religion. He misinterpreted the verses of the Koran and distributed this paper to others. All ulama [Islamic clerics] have condemned his act."
Khaliqyar added that the trial was conducted in a "very Islamic way."
If all this sounds terribly familiar, you probably have been reading my entries in this blog about Abd'al-Karim Nabil Suleiman. Suleiman, a blogger who used to write under the name Kareem Amir, has been fighting for his freedom in Egypt for committing almost exactly the same crimes as Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh.
It seems questioning the plight of women in an Islamic society is an unpardonable crime. But Kareem is far luckier than Kambakhsh. Living in modern Egypt, Kareem was only sentenced to five years in prison. He did not face a death sentence like Kambakhsh faces in Afghanistan.
Pressure does need to be placed on Afghanistan President Karzai from the US government, the international press and the world wide blogosphere to commute the death sentence on Kambakhsh.
And we must continue our efforts to free Kareem Amir.