Reporters Without Borders is very worried about the pressure being placed on the authorities by conservative religious leaders in the case of Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a young journalist in the northern province of Balkh who has been detained since late October on charges of blasphemy and defaming Islam. The Council of Mullahs says he should be sentenced to death.
"The calls for the death penalty for Kambakhsh highlight the growing influence of fundamentalist groups on intellectual debate," the organisation said. "The blasphemy charges are an ill-disguised attempt to hide the desire of the local authorities to restrict press freedom."
A reporter for the newspaper Jahan-e Naw ("The New World") and a journalism student at Balkh university, Kambakhsh, 23, was arrested on 27 October. Articles on the role of women in Muslim society were found at his home.
His brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, also a journalist, told Reporters Without Borders his arrest was illegal. "Any case involving the press should be heard first by the Media Evaluation Commission before going to the courts," he said. "Furthermore, the prosecutor only referred the case to the courts after the Council of Mullahs said he should be sentenced to death for insulting holy texts."
Journalists in Balkh province finally revealed that Kambakhsh was being detained after the failure of attempts to obtain his release through negotiation. They wrote to President Hamid Karzai calling for his release. Two days later, the Council of Mullahs warned the authorities against releasing him.
Reporters Without Borders is also very concerned about Ghows Zalmay, a former journalist and attorney-general’s spokesman, who is being held for publishing a translation of the Koran into Dari. He was arrested in early November after conservative religious leaders said the translation was "un-Islamic" and misinterpreted verses about adultery and begging. Parliamentarians have even accused him of being "worse than Salman Rushdie."
Afghan journalists are exposed to threats and harassment from religious fundamentalists who try to prevent any debate about Islam and the status of women. The authorities often violate freedom of expression on the grounds of protecting the Islamic nature of Afghan society.
Reporters Without Borders appeals to the international community to intercede with the Afghan government and seek the release of Kambakhsh and Zalmay.