Afghanistan: Western Troops Die to Protect 'Holy Fascism'
30 Jan, 2008
The Taliban took control of
Last year was the bloodiest year of
fighting, with 117
The Coalition has tried to restore
political stability and democracy to
January 22nd last week,
a 23-year-old student of journalism was sentenced to death at a
court in Mazar-i-Sharif in
Kambaksh (also spelled Kaambakhsh) also worked as a journalist for the newspaper Jahan-e Naw ("The New World"). He brought into his university class a page downloaded from an Iranian internet site. This was of an article that questioned why Muslim men can have four wives while women have no such rights.
the deputy attorney general of
The court at which Kambaksh was tried was not open to the public, and the student was not allowed any defense lawyers. The "crime" took place last fall, and since his arrest by agents of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) on October 27th, Kambaksh has been in jail. He is still in prison, while his appeals process continues. Under current conditions, there is little chance Kambaksh will be reprieved, unless President Hamid Karzai intervenes. He has to appeal to two courts, and the death penalty can not be enacted until ratified by a higher court.
The legal problems facing Kambaksh
reflect problems with the national constitution. They also involve
religion. The week before he appeared in court, religious clerics
There are also political issues which appear to indicate that Kambaksh is being used as pawn to place pressure on other journalists who have exposed corruption, including his older brother.
The 2004 constitution maintains (Article One) that: "Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic, independent, unitary and indivisible", where (Article Two) "The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam," where "Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law." Despite Article Two's claims to religious freedoms, the Catch-22 comes in Article Three, where "In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam."
Article 130 of the Afghan constitution states: While processing the cases, the courts apply the provisions of this Constitution and other laws. When there is no provision in the Constitution or other laws regarding ruling on an issue, the courts' decisions shall be within the limits of this Constitution in accord with the Hanafi jurisprudence and in a way to serve justice in the best possible manner.
It is under Article 130 that Kambaksh has been sentenced to death. The constitution, approved by an unelected body of feudal leaders, allowed for the formation of a "Wolesi Jirga". This is a 249-member house of representatives, who are individually elected by ballot. However, the 2005 elections have allowed this Wolesi Jirga to be comprised of a bizarre mix of factions, warlords and Mujahideen fighters. These include about 40 Hezb-e Islami, former followers of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Disturbingly, the elections also brought at least one member of the Taliban into the fold of government. Mawlawi Mohammed Islam Mohammadi was the Taliban's governor of Bamiyan province. During his gubernatorial office, he allowed the destruction of the giant 3rd Century statues of Buddha at Bamiyan in March, 2001. Mohammadi was elected in 2005 as a representative of Samangan province. This is the much-vaunted democracy, Afghan-style, for which coalition soldiers have laid down their lives.
The case of Sayad Parwez Kambaksh
has been taken up by groups inside and outside of
Article 34 of the Afghan
constitution guarantees freedom of expression. It entitles every
Afghan citizen the "the right to print or publish topics without
prior submission to the state authorities in accordance with the
law." Since the constitution came into effect, newspapers have
Ibrahimi has told the international press watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF): "Any case involving the press should be heard first by the Media Evaluation Commission before going to the courts. 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."
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has published a copy of its letter to President Hamid Karzai, suggesting that Kambaksh was "being targeted in order to put pressure on his brother." The letter states that "journalists are left vulnerable to prosecution for cultural transgressions as determined by the Ministry of Information and Culture. The ministry does so with the backing of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and the Nationwide Council of Religious Scholars of Afghanistan."
Kambaksh is not the only person in
a similar predicament. Dr Ahmad Ghows Zalmay is a former journalist
who has also acted as spokesman for the
November 4, 2007 Zalmay,
who is an imam, was arrested as he tried to flee into
Before the 2004 constitution was introduced, there were problems with members of the press expressing views that were deemed to be "un-Islamic". Two editors of the weekly "Aftab" were arrested on June 17, 2003. Sayed Mahdawi and Ali Payam Sestani were accused of "libeling Islam" after they published an article in the previous week, called "Holy Fascism." This article, written by Mahdawi, suggested that a moderate and progressive form of Islam should be practiced. The article stated: "If Islam is the last and the most complete of the revealed religions, why are the Muslim countries lagging behind the modern world?"
President Hamid Karzai ordered that the two editors should be released, but only to allow them to prepare defense cases for their trial. The publication "Aftab" was officially shut down by the Afghan Information Ministry. They went into hiding after Islamists demonstrated to protest their release from detention. On August 6, 2003, both men were sentenced to death by the Supreme Court. Before the trial, the 13-member Council of Mullahs requested the death penalty. This was upheld by Maulavi Fazl-e Hadi Shinwari, president of the Supreme Court. One Afghan newspaper had, before the sentence, published fatwas urging their death. The two editors fled the country.
On October 1, 2005, Ali Mohaqiq Nasab was arrested. He was the editor of a magazine called "Haqooq-i-Zan" or "Women's Rights", and published articles which had "insulted" Islam. One of these questioned the harshness of Sharia punishments, such as stoning for adultery. Another article maintained that apostasy was not a crime.
Mr. Nasab was arrested after one of
President Karzai's religious advisers had complained to the Supreme
Court. Rahimullah Samandar, president of AIJA maintained that
According to analyst Robert Kluyver,
the case was politically and religiously motivated. He said: "It is
a case where conservative Shia clerics are fighting the more
moderate Shia. In other words, it very much reminds one of the
problem that exists in
Ali Mohaqiq Nasab was given a
two-year jail sentence with hard labor by the High Court in
Nasab appealed against the decision , and on December 24, 2005, his sentence was reduced to six months' imprisonment. Three months of this sentence was suspended. As he had spent three months in prison, he was freed shortly afterwards.
In March 2004, before any representatives had been elected to the national assembly (Wolesi Jirga) President Hamid Karzai signed a Media Act. Under this decree, journalists could be detained only after their cases had been examined by the 17-member Media Commission. In Ali Mohaqiq Nasab's case, this protocol was not followed. Article 31 of the 2004 media law nonetheless maintained that journalists could not write about religion. This law was later discussed by the Wolesi Jirga.
Hamid Karzai is somewhat hypocritical. In February 2002 he introduced an earlier draft of the media law, which he claimed would allow freedom of the press. He said: "People can have their newspapers, people can have their radios and they can write things, they can criticize us as much as they want."
Another reform of the media law was introduced in 2006, which again promised less restrictions on press freedom.
In June 2007, revisions to the
media law were
awaiting final approval,
after being approved by the Wolesi Jirga on May 22, 2007. The
53-article legislation still contained questionable rulings. It
still prevented journalists from producing "content that goes
against the principles of Islam," "publicizing and promotion of
religions other than Islam" and "materials inconsistent with
On its path to becoming law, the government and the Religious and Cultural Affairs Commission claimed that a truly free media would allow individuals to be discredited. The head of the Religious and Cultural Affairs Commission had reason to distrust a free and open media. He is Haji Mohammed Mohaqeq of the Wahdat-e-Islami party, who was formerly Karzai's planning minister.
As a commander in the anti-Taliban
The current troubles of Sayad Parwez Kambaksh and Dr. Ahmad Ghows Zalmay reflect serious problems at the heart of Aghanistan's government, and raise the question of whether or not Hamid Karzai is really a trustworthy leader. Sure, he is urbane and well-spoken, but as President he has power to veto any parliamentary rulings. He helped to shape the current constitution, with all its contradictions, and has done little to question the role of the clerics in affecting Afghan life.
In practice, Karzai's
constitutional position is not dissimilar to that of the
monarch in the 1964
constitution. When Karzai stood for election in 2005, many other
boycotted the event. In
2009, there will be new elections. If Karzai is not re-elected,
problems with the "democratic" nature of
All member countries of the coalition have seen their soldiers killed to keep Karzai's government in power. It should be the right of these countries to question if their continued investment is paying the expected dividends – freedom of the press and freedom of expression. Such are cornerstones of any democracy, and on these the current government has not delivered.
March 2006, the Western
world was shocked that an Afghan convert to Christianity, Abdul
Rahman, was sentenced to death for the "'crime" of leaving Islam.
The judge who convicted him was Ansarullah Mawlawizadah, the same
official who sentenced Ali Mohaqiq Nasab to two years' jail for
insulting Islam. To avoid a diplomatic incident, Abdul Rahman was
smuggled out of the
country. At the time of Rahman's death sentence, Condoleezza Rice
had said: "
The current plight of Sayad Parwez
Kambaksh and Ahmad Ghows Zalmay indicates that there are aspects of
Article 7, clause one, of
Article 19 of the Declaration states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
While Western soldiers put their
lives at risk to bring democracy to
Adrian Morgan, aka
Giraldus Cambrensis of
Western Resistance, is UK-based writer and artist. He also writes for
Family Security Matters and