Afghan prison nightmare may be coming to an end for Pervez

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The Independent Online

His surroundings are grim and forbidding, a Kabul prison thronged with desperate humanity. But Sayed Pervez Kambaksh believes his long nightmare is almost over.

The 24-year-old student, sentenced to death for downloading internet reports on women's rights, is allowing himself to be hopeful for the first time since he was condemned.

"I really did not believe that I would survive for this long, I thought that they would make sure I would disappear, I would be killed. I was abused and beaten after being arrested," he said yesterday. "But now I think they will overturn this wrong verdict and I can get out of this place and start again."

Mr Kambaksh had hoped he might walk free yesterday after his second appearance before an appeal court in the Afghan capital.

In the event, the hearing was adjourned. The Independent has learnt, however, that the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has privately assured Mr Kambaksh's campaign team that he will be freed. Senior government figures have also indicated that they believe his sentence, by a court in Mazar-e-Sharif, was based on a mistaken interpretation of the country's constitutional law. Mr Kambaksh has already discreetly been issued with a passport which will enable him to start a new life abroad if and when he is freed.

The case of Pervez Kambaksh has become an international cause célèbre, with David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, and Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, raising the young student's fate with the Afghan government.

A petition by readers of The Independent to secure justice for him has attracted more than 100,000 signatures. Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, said on a visit to Afghanistan yesterday that he would be raising the matter with Mr Karzai.

Mr Kambaksh said from his cell yesterday that he was aware that the Afghan President may save his life. "This is very, very important for me. It was a court which said I must die without even hearing my side of the story. There are many judges who are very conservative and say I have insulted Islam without really considering the evidence.

"They themselves are also afraid of extremists and this could influence their decision. That worries me. But I am very grateful to the international media, especially The Independent, for taking an interest in my case. I think that makes it difficult for them to just get rid of me."

Mr Kambaksh was convicted after a four-minute hearing during which he was not allowed a lawyer nor, he says, to speak in his own defence. His fate appeared sealed when the Afghan Senate passed a motion, proposed by Sibghatullah Mojadidi, a key ally of President Karzai, confirming the death sentence, although this was later withdrawn after domestic and international pressure.

Mr Kambaksh was arrested and charged in October after downloading a document from an Iranian website about Islam and women's rights. He told the first appeal hearing last week that he had been tortured into confessing to adding three paragraphs to the text. He represented himself at the court because fundamentalist groups were threatening to kill any lawyer who took on his case.

According to Samay Hamed, the co-ordinator of Mr Kambaksh's campaign team, President Karzai first agreed to pardon the student in March this year. "I ... have been told repeatedly by government ministers that [they] want the matter resolved quickly."