Free at last: Student in hiding after Karzai's intervention

Twenty months on, and with more than 100,000 signatures from Independent readers seeking his release, Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the Afghan student sentenced to death for the ‘crime’ of downloading information on women's rights, is free

Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the student sentenced to death in Afghanistan for trying to promote women's rights, has been freed from prison. The Independent has learned that he is now living outside the country after being secretly pardoned by President Karzai.

The fate of the 24-year-old trainee journalist became an international cause célèbre after his plight was revealed by this newspaper. A petition to secure justice gathered more than 100,000 signatures and the Afghan government came under intense pressure from the international community to release him.

Mr Kambaksh was moved from his cell in Kabul's main prison a fortnight ago and kept at a secure location for a few days before being flown out of the country. Prior to his departure, he spoke of how his relief was mixed with deep regret at knowing he was unlikely to see his family or country again.

Only a handful of people were aware of the intensive diplomatic negotiations which took place behind the scenes to get Mr Kambaksh out of jail, details of which cannot be revealed to protect those, Afghans and foreigners, who were involved.

Hardline Islamists, including a number of political figures close to the government of President Karzai, have repeatedly called for Mr Kambaksh's execution and were fiercely critical when an appeal court reduced the original death sentence to 20 years' imprisonment. One senior diplomatic source said: "The danger is very real and we are well aware that there will be a reaction when it becomes clear that Pervez had gone. It was imperative he was safely out of the way before attempts could be made to block that."

The Afghan president has been repeatedly told that the continuing incarceration of the trainee journalist damaged the credibility of his already-tarnished administration. His release however, comes at a particularly volatile time in Afghanistan with bitter recriminations and threats of violence following a disputed election.

The Kambaksh case has highlighted how human rights gains have been eroded since the fall of the Taliban eight years ago. Although Mr Kambaksh has found refuge thousands of miles away, he will have to live the rest of his life in fear of retribution.

According to senior officials Mr Karzai has been well aware of how Mr Kambaksh's case was reinforcing the negative image of his country abroad but also had to be mindful of not being seen to be bowing to Western pressure. Now his role in rectifying something which was widely seen as a miscarriage of justice will be lauded by the West, human rights groups and progressive opinion in Afghanistan. But he will face opposition from religious conservatives, which may prove electorally costly if there is a second-round run off at the polls.

Mr Kambaksh was originally arrested in October 2007 after some students and staff at his university in Mazar-i-Sharif in the north of the country accused him of disseminating material on women's rights which "insulted Islam". He was charged with blasphemy and sentenced to death at a trial three months later. He told The Independent from his cell in Balkh prison that a "confession" had been beaten out of him and he had not been allowed legal representation or allowed to speak during the four-minute hearing behind closed doors.

However, international pressure continued behind closed doors, and the student was moved to a jail in Kabul to appeal against his conviction. The case against him appeared to be crumbling with a number of prosecution witnesses withdrawing their testimony. Another plank of the case, that he had written part of the downloaded internet report himself, appeared to collapse after The Independent tracked down the real author, an Iranian émigré woman living in Europe.

In October last year Afghanistan's supreme court set aside the death sentence but ruled he must serve at least 20 years in prison. Diplomatic pressure continued behind closed doors and finally came to fruition with the signing of an "amnesty" by President Karzai.

* Gordon Brown last night announced plans for an international summit on Afghanistan’s future. The proposals were set out in a letter to the UN with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Mr Brown proposed the conference afterthe Afghan election result is settled.

The summit will focus on the “Afghanisation” of the country, including faster training of its armed forces and police. Britain would offer to host the meeting.

People power: The Independent's campaign

The Independent launched its campaign to secure justice for Pervez Kambaksh the day after he was condemned to death in January 2008. Within 24 hours President Hamid Karzai was inundated with appeals while more than 13,500 Independent readers signed our petition. During a debate in the House of Commons David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, and William Hague, Shadow Foreign Secretary all spoke out. Louise Arbour, the UN commissioner for Human Rights, and the Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also urged Afghanistan to reconsider the case. On 6 February 2008, the then-US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice intervened. Two days later Mr Karzai said: "Justice will be done". By May 2008, 100,000 people had signed the petition. Five months later the death sentence was quashed.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor