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Brother's reporting brought Afghan journalist death sentence: group

An Afghan journalist who was sentenced to death for distributing an article about Islam and women's rights is actually being punished for his brother's reporting on abuses by warlords, a media group says.

An Afghan journalist who was sentenced to death for distributing an article about Islam and women's rights is actually being punished for his brother's reporting on abuses by warlords, a media group says.

Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh, 23, was sentenced to death Tuesday by a three-judge panel in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif for distributing a report he printed off the Internet to fellow journalism students at Balkh University.

The article asks why men can have four wives but women can't have multiple husbands. It was written in the Iranian language of Farsi, which is similar to the Afghan language of Dari.

The judges said the article humiliated Islam, and members of a clerics council had pushed for Kaambakhsh to be punished. The case now goes to the first of two appeals courts.

Jean MacKenzie, country director for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, which helps train Afghan journalists, said Wednesday Kaambakhsh was being punished for stories written for IWPR by his brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi.

"We feel very strongly that this is a complete fabrication on the part of the authorities up in Mazar, designed to put pressure on Parwez' brother Yaqub, who has done some of the hardest-hitting pieces outlining abuses by some very powerful commanders in Balkh and the other northern provinces," MacKenzie said.

Canadian profs write letter to Karzai

In Canada, journalism professors at the University of King's College in Halifax joined with international journalism groups in condemning the sentence.

The eight faculty members appealed to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to step in and spare Kaambakhsh's life.

"While we have the utmost respect for the properly constituted legal process of Afghanistan, we deplore this unjust decision," the professors wrote in a letter to Karzai.

"More than 75 Canadian soldiers have already died in the cause of creating a better life for Afghans, including freedom to speak one's mind, and freedom from tyranny of all kinds."

Students at the School of Journalism were given the opportunity to sign their own letter today.

Brother's stories linked legislator to murders

The media industry has exploded in recent years in Afghanistan, which now has dozens of newspapers and TV news channels. But journalists are routinely pressured by government officials or powerful factional leaders trying to prevent reporting on sensitive issues.

MacKenzie said authorities in Balkh province searched Ibrahimi's computer hard drive and took the names and phone numbers of sources he spoke with for stories. "So we feel that what is happening with Parwez is not a very veiled threat against Yaqub Ibrahimi," MacKenzie said.

Ibrahimi wrote stories for IWPR late last year quoting villagers accusing Afghan legislator Piram Qul of being behind murders and kidnappings. Qul — a former commander in the militant and political group Jamiat-e-Islami and a current parliament member from Takhar province — denied the allegations.

Qayoum Baabak, editor of the Jahan-e-Naw newspaper in Mazar where Kaambakhsh works, said the local prosecutor, Hafiz Khaliqyar, warned journalists at a recent news conference that they would be punished if they supported Kaambakhsh.

Reporters Without Borders also called on Karzai to intervene. The International Federation of Journalists denounced the holding of the trial in a closed session and Kaambakhsh's lack of a lawyer.

Muslim clerics in Balkh and Kunduz province arranged a demonstration in Mazar-i-Sharif last week against Kaambakhsh, calling on the government not to release him.

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