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Death row journalist's defence lawyer tells appeal hearing his client was tortured

(RSF/IFEX) - Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a young journalist who has been under sentence of death since January 2008 on a blasphemy charge, was physically mistreated by the security services in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif to get him to confess, his lawyer, Mohamad Afzal Nuristani, told an appeal hearing on 1 June in Kabul.

Nuristani also said Kambakhsh's trial in Mazar-i-Sharif was marred by irregularities, including the fact that he was not represented by a lawyer. The appeal court judge adjourned the hearing pending the results of forensic and internal investigations into the allegations of mistreatment, and ordered Kambakhsh transferred to a hospital for examination.

"Kambakhsh should be examined and released in the light of these new facts revealed by the defence," RSF said. "What with confessions extracted under torture - an unjust procedure - and the constant pressure, everything indicates that the trial that resulted in Kambakhsh being sentenced to death did not respect the basic principles of Afghan due process. The judicial authorities should take note of this."

Kambakhsh is exhausted by seven months of detention and RSF is extremely worried about his state of health. Several sources have told the press freedom organisation that he has psychological problems and his brother, fellow journalist, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, said: "His mind wanders when he speaks and he has lost more than 10 kilos."

The judge began the 1 June appeal hearing by taking nearly an hour to read to the court the controversial online article that Kambakhsh allegedly printed and distributed. Then Nuristani outlined the grounds for overturning his client's death sentence, including the injuries to the nose and hand he sustained during interrogation by intelligence service agents. Nuristani requested an investigation and a medical examination of Kambakhsh. This was accepted by the judge, who ordered his transfer to a Kabul hospital.

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