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August 23 2008 | AFGHANISTAN


Death sentence for blasphemy commuted to 20 years in jail

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BBC News

AFGHANISTAN: Afghan man spared death sentence

A journalism student from northern Afghanistan has had his controversial death sentence for blasphemy commuted to 20 years in jail.

Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, 24, was sent to prison in October 2007 after reportedly downloading material from the internet on women's rights in Islam.

A court is his home city of Mazar-e-Sharif condemned him to death.

An appeals court in Kabul reduced the sentence, but Mr Kambaksh's family say they will fight for his full release.

Mr Kambaksh's brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, said they expected the conviction to be overturned.

He said the family believes the court was "influenced by extremists".

Highlights tensions

Mr Ibrahimi criticised Afghan President Hamid Karzai for not using his power to intervene and to pardon his brother.

He said despite professing that Afghanistan was now a democratic country, Mr Karzai had not taken steps to protect freedom of speech.

Mr Kambaksh's case has highlighted the tension between the voices of conservative Islam in Afghanistan and the liberal international backers of President Karzai.

Mr Karzai is left in a difficult position - not wanting to appear to bow to international pressure in what is a strongly Islamic country.

In an interview from prison last month, Mr Kambaksh told the BBC that he had not been allowed to defend himself at his original trial, which lasted less than 5 minutes.

After the appeal, Mr Ibrahimi said: "We are disappointed. We expected today to see him released.

"Unfortunately they took these decisions under the influence of extremists. We will now appeal to the Supreme Court that they should change this decision again and release Kambaksh."


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