Thursday, January 31, 2008

From Foreign Policy - Downloading: Punishable by death?

Downloading: Punishable by death?

Wed, 01/23/2008 - 4:54pm.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Someone please explain to me how this is supposed to be justice. A 23-year-old journalism student named Sayad Parwez Kambaksh supposedly goes online, finds an interesting paper, and prints it out. He supposedly brings it to class at Balkh University, discusses it with a teacher and some fellow students. The paper gets copied and distributed. Some students find it objectionable; they say it is offensive and that it insults Islam. They complain to the government.

Kambaksh is arrested in October and put in jail. He says he had nothing to do with the paper. His case goes to trial, but he has no lawyer. In fact, his family is not even aware that he's put on trial. A panel of three judges decides that he should be put to death because the paper he supposedly distributed "humiliates Islam." The Afghan Independent Journalists' Association reports that any paper in question may have downloaded from an Iranian blog, which contained articles questioning the origins of the Koran, among other controversial things.

Now, his case goes to the first of two appeal courts. But Fazel Wahab, the chief judge in the province where the trial took place, says that only President Hamid Karzai can pardon the student, since Kambaksh supposedly confessed to having violated tenets of Islam. Incidentally, Wahab has never read the paper (to be fair, he was also not on the panel that convicted Kambaksh).

Kambaksh isn't the only Afghan journalist who's gotten into trouble with the law. Ghows Zalmai was also arrested three months ago, charged with distributing a translation of the Koran that clerics did not accept. Religious scholars have also called for him to be put to death.

At any rate, all of this raises the question: Why did the U.S. go into Afghanistan and topple the Taliban, only to have it be replaced with a system like this? So far, no comment from Karzai, who is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos. But he'd better step up.

As an afterthought, I thought that I'd put my own two cents in. This is the nation that our President said in his State of the Union address and I quote:

In Afghanistan, America, our 25 NATO allies, and 15 partner nations are helping the Afghan people defend their freedom and rebuild their country. Thanks to the courage of these military and civilian personnel, a nation that was once a safe haven for al Qaeda is now a young democracy where boys and girls are going to school, new roads and hospitals are being built, and people are looking to the future with new hope.

So much for that new hope. If I live in a country where I can't express my opinion and the courts are run by the churches, then something is very wrong.

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