Afghani Student Sentenced to Death for Reading About Women’s Rights

// 31 January 2008

Todays headlines show both how the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating but also how women’s rights are still seen as a threat. Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, a 23 year old journalism student, has been sentenced to death for downloading and distributing a document from the internet on women’s rights. Kambaksh apparently distributed the document with the aim of “provoking debate” but was reported to religious courts and tried in camera (without witnesses).

Despite pressure from the West and NGOs the plot thickened, however when the Senate voted to uphold the death sentence.

The UN, human rights groups, journalists’ organisations and Western diplomats have urged Mr Karzai’s government to intervene and free him. But the Afghan Senate passed a motion yesterday confirming the death sentence. The MP who proposed the ruling condemning Mr Kambaksh was Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, a key ally of Mr Karzai. The Senate also attacked the international community for putting pressure on the Afghan government and urged Mr Karzai not to be influenced by outside un-Islamic views.

From The Independent

However there is another twist in the tale with some newspapers reporting that the sentence is actually being used to silence journalists including Kambaksh’s brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, who has been critical of the “jehadi mafia” in the area (Balkh province) and has written about human rights abuses including sexual abuse of “dancing boys” (young boys (aged 13-16) kidnapped to provide entertainment and sexual services to warlords).

The gender element here is interesting and frustrating. First we’re told Kambaksh’s sentence is for raising debate about women’s rights. But then, just as we were told the invasion was partly motivated by a desire to free women from the Taliban control, we are told it’s actually about filial ties, “human” (but not women’s rights) rights and abuse of boys. Whatever the ins and outs of the situation the western media have real problems with understanding that women’s rights might be a cause, in and of itself, which would motivate journalists. And whilst the sexual abuse of boys is never to be condoned, the press happily overlook the fact that girls as young as 11 years are “married off” to much older men for money, as documented by Unicef photographer Stephanie Sinclair (these photo’s won this years Unicef Photo of the Year competition).

In the end it seems here like women continue to be the losers – although the act that is being deemed blasphemous was about women, the real reason was about men.

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