Pressure mounts for reprieve of student

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The Independent Online

More than 20 international lobby groups came together at the weekend to petition Afghanistan's President to repeal the death sentence handed down to Sayed Pervez Kambaksh.

The 23-year-old journalism student was sentenced to death by a closed court after distributing an article on women's rights, an act he claims was aimed at provoking debate. He was accused of circulating the report downloaded from the internet to students and teachers at Balkh University last year, and was denied a lawyer at his secret trial.

At a meeting of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in Malaysia on Saturday, the heads of 21 organisations from across the Asia-Pacific region signed a motion urging President Karzai to overturn the fundamentalist verdict.

It follows a wave of national and international protest against the decision, led by The Independent. More than 48,000 people have signed our online petition that calls for justice for Mr Kambaksh.

The statement from the IFJ said: "We condemn in the strongest terms the decision ... to sentence Pervez to death on charges of blasphemy. We demand the government and President of Afghanistan show their commitment to a new, free and open Afghanistan by immediately intervening to overturn the sentence and withdraw the charges against Parvez, and to take appropriate steps to institute prompt reform of the legal system."

The Afghan constitution, written after the fall of the hardline Taliban regime in 2001, enshrines the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which safeguards freedom of expression. But it also incorporates Sharia law, which is often in conflict with the declaration.

The latest support for Mr Kambaksh came after President Karzai's political mentor, the ex-president and leader of the upper house, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, led a senate endorsement of the death penalty last week. But he was forced to back down after legal experts inside Afghanistan pointed out that it was illegal for the government to try to influence the judiciary.

The astonishing U-turn was seen as a potential lifeline for Mr Kambaksh.