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AUSA: Afghan student sentenced to death

12 March 2008 – For Immediate Use

AUSA supports immediate release of Afghan student sentenced to death

Auckland students called on the New Zealand government to uphold fundamental human rights, by pressuring the Afghanistan government to overturn a death sentence handed down to a student who exercised his rights to freedom of opinion and expression.

New Zealand's largest student association is deeply concerned over the fate of 23 year old Afghan journalism student Mr Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh. He faces execution after being convicted by an Afghan religious court of downloading an article that discussed the compatibility of women's rights and Islam.

"This is a clear breach of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Reports that his trial lasted only four minutes, that he was not allowed to speak in his own defence, and had no legal representation, are a disturbing indication of the state of the Afghan justice system,” says AUSA President David Do.

"It is absolutely disgraceful that the Afghan government is allowing this sentence to go ahead. We are further concerned that the New Zealand government, which has 107 soldiers in Afghanistan training the Afghan army and police, has not yet expressed its concern to Hamid Karzai's government over the matter," says Omar Hamed, AUSA International Affairs Officer.

AUSA calls on the New Zealand government to pressure the Afghan government to uphold human rights. It has sent letters of concern to the Afghan Ambassador to New Zealand Amanullah Jayhoon, Prime Minister Helen Clark, and Foreign Minister Winston Peters.

AUSA calls on its members and fellow student associations around the world to contact Afghanistan's diplomatic representatives and urge that their government release Mr Kambakhsh. [ Background note attached]

ENDS

BACKGROUND NOTE: Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh was a reporter for the Afghan newspaper, "Jahan-e Naw," and a student at Balkh University. Kambakhsh was accused of possessing an article, which discussed controversial verses of The Holy Quran regarding women's rights. Kambakhsh was convicted of blasphemy for downloading an article from a Farsilanguage website and possessing books containing anti-Islamic sentiment.

Kambaksh, 23, distributed the tract to fellow students and teachers at Balkh University with the aim, he said, of provoking a debate on the matter. But a complaint was made against him and he was arrested, tried by religious judges without – say his friends and family – being allowed legal representation and sentenced to death. He was not represented by a lawyer at the trial, which was held in secret. This sentence has also been supported by the upper house of the Afghan parliament.

New Zealand currently has 107 soldiers deployed in the Bamian province of Afghanistan, where it is involved in training the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police Force, as well as supporting the role of the United Nations in Afghanistan and the International Security Assistance Force. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

ENDS


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