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An Afghan appeals court yesterday overturned a death sentence for a young journalist accused of blasphemy and instead sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Urgent international pressure is needed for his release, says the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN, which is asking you to send appeals to President Hamid Karzai and the Afghanistan ambassador in your country to intervene.

Sayed Parwiz Kambakhsh, a 23-year-old journalism student and reporter for the newspaper "Jahan-e-Naw ("The New World"), was arrested in October 2007 for distributing what officials say was anti-Islamic literature. He gave friends an article that said the Prophet Mohammed ignored women's rights. He was also accused of possessing anti-Islamic books and starting un-Islamic debates in class.

He was given the death sentence on 22 January in a trial held behind closed doors and without any lawyers defending him. But on 21 October, the head of the three-judge panel, Abdul Salaam Qazizada, struck down the lower court's death penalty but still sentenced Kambakhsh to 20 years behind bars. Kambakhsh's lawyer has filed an appeal, expected to be heard by the Supreme Court on 26 October.

"I don't accept the court's decision," Kambakhsh told The Associated Press as he was leaving the courtroom. "It is an unfair decision."

Other IFEX members, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), also condemned the decision. "This sentence is a step backwards for freedom of expression in Afghanistan," said CPJ. "Kambakhsh's case has come to represent the distance between the traditional forces in Afghanistan and those that want their country to move forward."

According to CPJ and RSF, one of the witnesses called by the prosecution, a classmate of Kambakhsh's named Hamid, told the court that members of Afghanistan's intelligence service (NDS) had visited him after Kambakhsh's initial arrest and threatened to take his family into custody if he did not make a statement about Kambakhsh's blasphemy.

Yaqub Ibrahimi told CPJ that NDS officials searched the apartment he shared with Kambakhsh, his brother, for materials related to his own journalism. Ibrahimi writes for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) and said he feared that his brother's arrest was in reprisal for his own hard-hitting articles criticising local officials and warlords.

Find out how to take action here:

Also visit these links:
- CPJ:
- IFJ:
- RSF:
- AP:
(22 October 2008)

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