Afghan Supreme Court Rejects Kambakhsh Appeal

There’s so much wrong with this, I don’t even know where to begin.

From IWPR:

The [Afghan] supreme court has upheld Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh’s 20-year sentence for blasphemy, dashing hopes of an early release for the student convicted of downloading information on women’s rights from the internet.

The decision, IWPR has learned, was made one month ago, according to Kambakhsh’s lawyer, Mohammad Afzal Nooristani. But the court acted behind closed doors, informing neither the lawyer nor his client about the ruling.

Kambakhsh, 24, was told of the judgement just days ago, from an official at the detention centre where he is being held. The official told Kambakhsh that he had heard of the verdict indirectly. Kambakhsh then told his lawyer, who tried to gain official confirmation from the supreme court.

“They would not let me present my statement, they would not let me in to talk to the judges,” said Nooristani. “In the reception area, they told me the decision had been made a month ago, and sent to the attorney general’s office for the sentence to be carried out. It is very strange that I was not informed.”

Nooristani sought to get more information from the attorney general’s office, but was told the case had been sent to the Mazar-e-Sharif court where it originated. Other than being told that the supreme court had, indeed, upheld the sentence, Nooristani gained very little information.

A few more important points:

Now that the supreme court has denied the final appeal, there are few avenues open to the defence team.

“There is a tiny possibility of reopening the case through the supreme court,” said Nooristani. “If we can present new evidence, they may agree to hear it.”

Unlikely.

The other possibility is a presidential pardon, something that foreign embassies, international human rights groups and concerned individuals have been lobbying for discretely.

But according to several western diplomats, they have not been willing to apply too much pressure. “We are supporting an independent judiciary,” said one, speaking privately.

“We’re supporting an independent judiciary” –good for you, anonymous diplomat. Only one problem: judicial independence doesn’t contribute to a culture of respect for human rights when the judiciary is corrupt, ill-trained and unprofessional.

The international donor community has poured many millions of dollars into reforming the Afghan judiciary, spanning several years and involving numerous countries and projects. American funds have built courthouses, while Italian money has trained lawyers and judges.

I know many Afghans and expats have worked hard and placed themselves in considerable danger to reform the Afghan judiciary and promote the rule of law, but something has gone badly, badly wrong, and it’s probably time for the international community to rethink its approach.

Update:

Yaqub Ibrahimi, Kambakhsh’s brother and IWPR journalist, responded at Kabulpress to his brother’s sentence.

Kambakhsh has never experienced a jury of his peers. His trials for blasphemy have all been held in secret. We, Parwiz’s family, just found out about this sentence today. There was no difference between this Supreme Court trial and the unjust four-minute Mazar provincial trail, where Parwiz was sentenced to death.

We thought a bit of justice could be found in the capital of Afghanistan; in the highest level of the Judiciary. Even President Karzai assured the world that justice would be carried out. However this secret decision shows that there is no justice in Afghanistan— at any level. An examination of this case shows that there are no grounds in international law to keep Kambakhsh in prison.

This is the tragic level of justice in Afghanistan today. It is just a make-believe system of justice and humanitarianism. The reality is that the Afghan government and judiciary, although supported by the U.S., the U.N., the E.U., and other democracies worldwide is morally bankrupt.

My heart goes out to Kambakhsh, Ibrahimi and their family. What a surreal nightmare.

Simultaneity* and juxtaposition

Nasim at Afghan Lord has a post up about his visit to Parwez Kambakhsh in prison. Here’s part of it:

The salon is terribly noisy, you can’t hear even your own voice. Visitors are shouting to the prisoners and prisoners shout to visitors. The guy who called the prisoners is called “Jarchi” (Farsi). It was the second time I asked him to call Sayed Parwiz Kambakhsh, and then immediately he appeared. I waved to him and went a step closer behind the bars but the reticulated wall of metals didn’t allow me to touch his fingers.

He seemed disappointed and desperately waved at me. Only for a few seconds I got closer to him, closer to hear him, which was difficult because of the noise. Suddenly my left shoulder was pulled back roughly and I saw two policemen who asked me what I was telling to Kambakhsh.

It’s startling to reflect on: a university student is sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2007, then his sentence is commuted to twenty years imprisonment a year later. The imprisoned student’s devastated friends post photos of him on facebook advocacy groups, and one of his countrymen visits him in prison and blogs about it. After reading Nasim’s post, I thought about the extraordinary juxtaposition here –social utilities that epitomize modernity and the age of instant, borderless communication being used to rally support for a victim of medieval politics.

Photo of Parwez Kambakhsh (left) and friend. Taken from facebook group "Save freedom of speech in Afghanistan."

Photo of Parwez Kambakhsh (left) and friend. From facebook group "Save freedom of speech in Afghanistan."

*Simultaneity: the property of two or more events happening at the same time.