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Cablegate: Local Court Sentences Journalist to Death; Case

VZCZCXRO9982
OO RUEHIK RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #0207 0241122
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 241122Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2505
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 4376
RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS KABUL 000207

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SCA/FO DAS CAMP, SCA/A,
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE
NSC FOR JWOOD
OSD FOR MSHIVERS
CENTCOM FOR CG CJTF-82 AND POLAD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPOL PHUM KIRF AF
SUBJECT: LOCAL COURT SENTENCES JOURNALIST TO DEATH; CASE
UNDER APPEAL

1. (SBU) On January 22 in a closed session, the Balkh
provincial court sentenced 23-year old journalism student and
reporter for the daily Jahan-e-Naw (New World) paper Sayad
Parwez Kambaksh to death for distributing an article that
judges said violated the tenets of Islam. Kambaksh had been
arrested in October 2007 for circulating (after adding his
own comments) a document critical of women's rights under the
Koran he had downloaded from the internet. The case now goes
to the first of two appeals courts, with Kambaksh remaining
in custody during the appeals process. There are unconfirmed
claims the sentence followed pressure from the local Council
of Religious Scholars. While some local officials worked
quietly behind the scenes to resolve the case, it threatens
to polarize the community.

2. (SBU) According to the Balkh court and constitutional
scholars, Kambaksh was prosecuted and sentenced under a
combination of Article 347 of the Afghan Penal Code, which
deals with crimes against religion, and Article 130 of the
Afghan Constitution, which says that, if no particular law
exists regarding an issue, a court's decision should be in
accordance with the Hanafi school of Shar'ia law. Kambaksh
was reportedly offered the possibility of quick release if he
confessed to authoring the paper and apologized to the court.
His brother claims that Kambaksh did admit to downloading
and distributing the article but insisted he had not intended
to denegrate Islamic values. There are unconfirmed reports
that Kambaksh's classmates had first accused him of
anti-Islamic activities, passing their complaints to local
clerics and government officials. While the court claims
that Kambaksh had said he would defend himself, Kambaksh's
brother said he should have been provided with an attorney.

3. (SBU) A number of local officials have defended Kambaksh
or worked quietly to defuse the case. The Balkh Provincial
Council reportedly appealed for Kambaksh's release on January
6, after meeting with him. Governor General Noor Atta, who
had told PRTOFF privately that he expected Kanbaksh to
"confess, express regret, apologize, and then be released,"
responded to the sentence by expressing confidence in the
Afghan court system and highlighting Kambaksh's right to
appeal. (He also drew attention to the active free press in
Balkh.) The Chief Justice of Balkh, who had not presided at
the trial, has said that the final disposition of the case
will likely depend on President Karzai's willingness to
"forgive" Kambaksh.

4. (SBU) Efforts to resolve the case quietly and without
polarizing the community failed. The New York-based
Committee to Protect Journalists had written an open protest
letter to President Karzai on January 17, citing the Kanbaksh
case. The letter accused the Ministry of Information and
Culture (with the backing of the National Directorate of
Security and the National Council of Religious Scholars) of
actions that leave Afghan journalists vulnerable to
prosecution. Local journalists asserted that Kanbaksh was
targeted in order to put pressure on his brother, an
outspoken liberal journalist who has authored articles that
local mullahs found offensive. Following the trial, the
Balkh Province Deputy Prosecutor threatened to arrest
journalists who protested the court's decision.

5. (SBU) Kambaksh's case comes during a period of increased
pressure from conservative religious groups on the media and
journalists (Septel). PRT Mazar-e Sharif is working with the
local UNAMA office and consulting with moderate local
officials to assess how best to encourage an acceptable
resolution to this case. Embassy is quietly reaching out to
the government and journalists organizations to express
support for media freedoms and concern about this case
without contributing to the increasingly charged and
polarized public debate on the issue. Post recommends that
any U.S. interventions be low-key and in private in order to
avoid a further conservative backlash that might jeopardize
Kambaksh's life.
WOOD

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