Staff editorial: Sentencing of Afghan journalist a death knell for free speech

Parwez Kambaksh, a 23-year-old Afghan student, has been sentenced to death. He didn’t kill or rape, didn’t steal or destroy. The crime he committed was merely using his printer.

Kambaksh, The Independent reported, was put on trial without legal representation for downloading, reading and distributing an article critical of the treatment of women in some Islamic countries.

Troubling doesn’t begin to describe the emotions this story should stir in the heart of America, the country that continues to spend so many of its sons’ and daughters’ lives trying to bring democracy to Afghanistan. It should stir up horror. It should stir up grief. Most of all, it should stir us to action.

Allowing this penalty to be carried out will set a dangerous precedent in a fledgling democracy, and this sentence undermines the most basic right of free citizens in a free country.

Americans border on fanaticism when their liberty to say, think and believe what they want is threatened. We cannot look on blindly while a fellow human being dies for claiming the same right in a country we’re trying to "save" from the barbarism of human rights violations.

The United Nations, journalist organizations inside and outside of Aghanistan, the United Kingdom and groups of protestors around the world are pressuring the country to repeal the sentence, but the pressure of these groups is no longer enough. The sentence, originally handed down by a sharia court, religious court, was reaffirmed by the Afghan Senate in a resolution Wednesday.

Senators also took the opportunity to urge President Hamid Karzai to ignore international protests over the decision.

The execution of Kambaksh wouldn’t be the death of only a single young man, but a nail in the coffin of free speech in a country that so desperately needs to break away from the harsh governmental control of the past.

Kambaksh’s conviction will be appealed in about a month. If it is upheld, Karzai may still pardon him, CNN reported Saturday.

We applaud the continued efforts of voices like The Independent and concerned countries and organizations to halt the execution of this young journalist’s life, and we urge them to do more.

America’s government and people must take a stand on this important issue to make sure Kambaksh is pardoned. We cannot claim victory in Afghanistan in expelling the Taliban if the root problems – intolerance, dictatorship and ideological slavery – remain. If Kambaksh dies, the soldiers who have given their lives to reclaim Afghanistan from terrorists have died in vain and Operation Enduring Freedom has failed.

Allowing even one man to die claiming his right to freedom of speech is too many.

Leave a Comment