To the letter of the law

Democracy in Afghanistan still has a long way to go

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Journalism has a bad reputation. Some journalists are glory-seeking bloodsuckers just waiting for the next lead so they can pounce and be the first ones to break a story. Journalism causes a great deal of disappointment for those who feel let down. Deception and other forms of trickery are used just to get a skewed view across to an audience that, with time, grows to hate them more and more. This hatred for journalists creates more readers which in turn fuels the industry.

In Afghanistan, the journalist population is carefully pruned through charges of blasphemy and death sentences. Over six years have passed since Afghanistan was liberated from the Taliban regime and although democratic principles are a lot more visible than they had been previously, there are a lot of things that, from a Canadian perspective, still seem backward. This is of course, only natural. The West has an idea as to what the ideal form of government is and while they're surely not so foolish as to believe a strictly Western model ought to be applied in countries such as Afghanistan, there are certainly limits to what even the most culturally sympathetic can deem acceptable applications of democratic principles.

Sayed Pervez Kambaksh is a journalism student in Afghanistan who was sentenced to death for the blasphemous act of downloading a report off the Internet on women's rights abuses, with the intent to initiate discourse within the university community. Tried under Sharia law in a secret Islamic court, Kambaksh was condemned without legal representation. Shortly afterward, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi--a key ally of Afghan president Hamid Karzai--gave his stamp of approval in the senate, legitimizing Kambaksh's death sentence.

Meanwhile, Malalai Joya is a member of parliament in Afghanistan who was suspended in May for her outspoken criticisms of government policies. On Jan. 31, in a statement published on the British news site for The Independent, Joya criticized her government, claiming that warlords who ought to be charged for their crimes are running it. She cited a recent occurrence in which several local military commanders raped a woman in front of her children.

Joya believes Islamic law is being used to deteriorate the rights of women in Afghanistan. This claim, the statement read, is no better evidenced than by the imprisonment and sentencing of Kambaksh. Joya went on to describe the slippery slope of what will happen if Kambaksh is executed for the religious crime.

"The situation that the press is faced with gives you a clear indication of the level of freedom and democracy in the country as a whole," the statement read.

Both the application of Sharia law and the United Nations universal declaration of human rights are sanctioned by the Afghan constitution signed in 2004, but the two often conflict with one another, making it difficult to sort out these kinds of cases. But as difficult to sort out what cases the declaration of human rights protects, the legal processes in Afghanistan seems to have delayed Kambaksh's execution, at least for now.

The Independent reported Mon. Mojaddedi was forced to back down after Afghan legal experts noted it is illegal for the senate to attempt to influence the judiciary. That is, it's illegal for the senate to endorse an execution because it is a judicial affair and not a government affair. The news was welcomed by protestors worldwide, who see this as a step in the right direction for Kambaksh's freedom, but won't be satisfied until he's been released. Kambaksh has also granted the right to appeal his death sentence to the supreme court, much to the dismay of clerics who feel a secular court has no right to rule in a religious matter.

There has also been some concern that Kambaksh's imprisonment comes as a form of retaliation against his brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, who is also a journalist. Ibrahimi has written extensively on atrocities by several high-ranking government officials and it is likely they would seek retaliation, the Independent reported.

Given the turmoil in Afghanistan, I count myself rather lucky to be living in a country whose present biggest concern with regard to rights and freedoms comes in the form of politicians putting forward absurd copyright legislation. But even as a student journalist in Canada, I still think it takes a certain kind of personality to be a journalist. Most importantly, you must be content knowing you're considered on par with lawyers and politicians on the scale of the subhuman. Sometimes, journalism--much like lawyering and politicking--is about doing what others are afraid to do.




I find the use of the term of "Sharia Law" to be very puzzling. I'm not referring to it's use by the writer of the article, but rather the Afghan government.

To my knowledge, secret courts without representation are against the ideals of Sharia Law.

Secondly, downloading reports off the internet isn't considered a crime under Sharia Law. I was thinking that perhaps the prosecutors would argue that it was a treasonous act, but I think in that case it would have to be shown that the accused endangered the lives of others.

To me, someone with a limited but fundamental understanding of Sharia Laws, it seems the government is abusing the title in order to get what they want. It seems rather convenient to have their own court system, label it "Sharia Law" and then do whatever they want (even if, as I pointed out, isn't really a part of Sharia Law to begin with).

Coupled with evidence in the article that the government seeks to hide some of its own crimes, it makes for a very dangerous environment for any journalist or voice for change.

Though I do see a workaround by having a source "on the ground", with information being sent to a Western Journalist who is free to report such news. That way the lives of the reporters on the ground can remain anonymous but are still able to report the facts and get the news out.