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Cablegate: Foreign Pressure Backfires On Kambakhsh Appeal

VZCZCXRO6735
RR RUEHAG RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLZ RUEHPW RUEHROV
DE RUEHBUL #1924/01 2080726
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 260726Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4876
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO 0561
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 4415
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 6738
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 001924

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/A, DRL/NESCA
NSC FOR WOOD
OSD FOR SHIVERS
CENTCOM FOR CG CJTF-101 POLAD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL AF EU
SUBJECT: FOREIGN PRESSURE BACKFIRES ON KAMBAKHSH APPEAL

REF: A. KABUL 207
B. KABUL 310

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. European governments are rethinking their
strategy of pressuring President Karzai directly in support
of Sayad Parwez Kambakhsh, who is appealing his death
sentence for distributing literature found by a local court
to be offensive to Islam (ref A). With many observers
pessimistic Afghan courts will rule in favor of Kambakhsh
against the will of conservative religious leaders, human
rights advocates are looking for more discreet ways to
communicate concerns to GIRoA officials, a method we have
employed from the outset (ref B). Karzai will be reluctant
to seem excessively attentive to foreigners in the long
run-up to next year's elections. We will continue to
privately register our reservations about the
constitutionality of the case with Afghan officials.

A Lower Profile Approach
--------------------------------

2. (SBU) Karzai is unlikely to intervene in a trial many see
as politicized in favor of religious conservatives, who
continue to agitate for swift and deadly justice for the
accused university student. At the most recent appeals
court hearing June 15 in Kabul, the judge reportedly played
the role of an aggressive prosecutor and waved off the
defense attorney's attempts to explain technology concepts at
the heart of the case, such as internet downloads and email.
The trial is on hold while witnesses are brought from Balkh
province to testify in the capital, but could finish by the
end of summer. Presuming a confirmation of the original
guilty verdict, the Supreme Court would then review the case.

3. (SBU) European diplomats in Kabul say Karzai had made
promises to their capitals leading up to the June Paris
Conference to ensure a fair trial and protections for freedom
of expression and the media. However, as demands from
Europe, where Kambakhsh is a cause celebre, increased, Karzai
became annoyed at the high-pressure, public lobbying.
Officials at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission
(AIHRC) say members of the national Ulema Council
precipitated a backlash against perceived outside meddling in
a domestic issue and Karzai tuned out his foreign
interlocutors. Ulema Council members have told him, "If you
don't kill Kambakhsh, we will."

4. (SBU) At a recent AIHRC meeting with international human
rights watchers, European and UNAMA representatives decided
to take a lower profile role in their advocacy for Kambakhsh,
relying less on high-profile statements from officials and
celebrities and more on supporting the work of Afghan human
rights NGOs. With subtle support from their international
counterparts, Afghan chapters of the International Federation
of Journalists and International PEN have begun campaigns
using the Kambakhsh trial to highlight issues of free
expression and free media for domestic audiences.
Journalists and human rights activists presented petitions in
support of Kambakhsh to provincial leaders July 8 in at least
15 provinces, a not-inconsequential effort given the death
threats outspoken Kambakhsh supporters have received from
religious extremists.

The Death Warrant Isn't Signed Yet
-------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) The Europeans' decision to tone down their public
advocacy for Kambakhsh's release may be more productive in
promoting rule of law and good relations with the West.
Europeans had put themselves in a difficult position -- in
general supporting the independence of Afghan courts while
lobbying Karzai to interfere in a case when they disagreed
with the likely outcome. Religious conservatives here
exploited the contradiction to convince Karzai not to
intervene. A quieter approach focusing on constitutionality,
as we have used, may allow Afghan courts, however flawed, to

KABUL 00001924 002 OF 002


reach their own conclusions and while respecting the judicial
process.

6. (SBU) Although the current appeals court trial may end
with a confirmation of the guilty verdict and death penalty,
this process is far from over. Indications of irregularities
in the trials open the door for the Supreme Court or Karzai
himself, who is ultimately mindful of international opinion,
to use legal technicalities or a more moderate interpretation
of sharia law to bring the case to a conclusion in line with
international standards and the scope of the Afghan
Constitution.

WOOD

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