Twenty months on, and with more than 100,000 signatures from Independent readers seeking his release, Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the Afghan student sentenced to death for the ‘crime' of downloading information on women's rights, is free.
The Independent has learned that he is now living outside the country after being secretly pardoned by President Karzai.
Kambaksh was moved from his cell in Kabul's main prison a fortnight ago and kept at a secure location for a few days before being flown out of the country. Prior to his departure, he spoke of how his relief was mixed with deep regret at knowing he was
unlikely to see his family or country again.
Only a handful of people were aware of the intensive diplomatic negotiations which took place behind the scenes to get Kambaksh out of jail, details of which cannot be revealed to protect those, Afghans and foreigners, who were involved.
According to senior officials Karzai has been well aware of how Kambaksh's case was reinforcing the negative image of his country abroad but also had to be mindful of not being seen to be bowing to Western pressure. Now his role in rectifying something
which was widely seen as a miscarriage of justice will be lauded by the West, human rights groups and progressive opinion in Afghanistan. But he will face opposition from religious conservatives, which may prove electorally costly if there is a
second-round run off at the polls.
Update: Angry Mullahs
9th September 2009. See article
Conservative and religious groups in Afghanistan reacted with fury yesterday to the news that Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, who was sentenced to death for promoting women's rights, has been freed.
After President Hamid Karzai secretly pardoned the 24-year-old student, hardliners called for an urgent ulama, a meeting of Islamic scholars, to organise protests against the decision.
Maulavi Hanif Shah Hosseini, a prominent mullah, declared: Kambaksh committed a crime against the Koran and the people who conspired so that he escaped the law have also committed a crime.
All the decisions to help this man who disrespected Islam are coming from the foreigners. But the decision to follow along with this came from Karzai and the Afghan government and we disown them. We are going to call for a gathering of the ulama to
decide what to do. We are not going to make a big stand against this and any trouble will be the fault of people who helped Kambaksh.
Qari Rahmatullah, MP for Kunduz, said: This just shows that our country is not independent. Our policies are dictated by outsiders. Why should a man be allowed to insult Islam and then just walk away? And he added: Good Muslim people will be
unhappy about this and Mr Karzai will have difficulties if the voting [in the election] goes to the second round.
Update: Angry Parliament
18th September 2009. Based on article
Afghanistan's upper house of Parliament has condemned the presidential pardon of a journalist sentenced to 20 years in prison for downloading an internet article about women's rights and Islam.
The upper house expresses its strongest concerns and annoyance and considers this decision contrary to the Islamic values and the laws in place in the country, said the statement signed by the speaker of the upper house.
It called on Kambakhsh to serve his term, and said that those convicted of apostasy and hatred of Islam must be punished.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said last week the case would be remembered as a miscarriage of justice marked by religious intolerance, police mistreatment and incompetence on the part of certain judges. Kabul must ensure that
blasphemy is no longer used to bring politically motivated charges and to suppress free expression , it added.