Parwez Kambakhsh, the young Afghani blogger accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death by the authorities in Kabul two years ago, has been recently charged with twenty years in jail. After a pig-circus trial, they arrested him for preventing his brother Yaqub – a well known investigative journalist – from writing about the misdeeds of the Taliban and the war lords. Kambakhsh is spending his time in jail together with actual criminals and his psychological and physical conditions are deteriorating every day. His brother Yaqub speaks about the situation in Afghanistan and hopes a better future for the Afghani people and for his brother.
Yaqub, your brother was arrested in October 2007 because as they said he was mocking Islam , the Prophet Mohammed and the Holy book, but isn’t there a different story behind the official accusation?
Yes exactly. As you know, they wanted to prevent me from writing about their war crimes, in this respect, my brother was the right target to hit. They also wanted to stop other Afghan investigative journalists in a indirect way so they made it very big and public. They wanted to show every journalist and writer in this country that if you do something “odd” or out of the boundaries, then you will face the consequences. They used my brother as a scapegoat by sentencing him to death – a sentence that was recently reversed to twenty years in jai]. They are showing every journalist what freedom of speech means here in Afghanistan: you can be free to express your opinion, sure, but then you must also be prepared for the worst.
You spent many words about the lack of freedom of speech in your country, did the situation change at all after your brother’s arrest?
As I mentioned, they made his case a symbol of the situation. After my brother’s arrest, all the journalists and writers in this country realized that Afghanistan is under the control of fundamentalist factions in the guise of a democracy. As they understood that in this country there is no guarantee and that no one is free to express his ideas, they started to censor themselves. That is why I am saying that Kambakhsh became a symbol: every time a journalist wants to speak out loud against the government or the factions here, the image of my brother in jail comes to his mind and he gives up. Many of my colleagues would really like to talk about what is happening in this country – as they did 3 or 4 years ago – but they cannot. This means that time is going backwards in Afghanistan.
Kambahsh was at first sentenced to death for blasphemy; now they charged him with 20 years in jail. How is your brother doing, how is his psychological situation at the moment?
He is being held in Kabul central prison, sharing the cell with seven actual criminals, and he is under severe psychological pressure. Every time he thinks about the cruel sentences they charged him with, it is a shock. We are really concerned about his health. About his safety in jail and also about his psychological and physical conditions.
Do you think he can stand all this time in jail?
With all the problems he is going through right now, he still thinks about human rights and he wishes a better condition for all the Afghani people, especially for the women here. Last time I met him he told me: “I can’t stand this at all…when I think about all the accusations with which they charged me and all the cruelty that my country is suffering from, It shocks me”.
Hundreds of Afghan journalists like you have demonstrated for your brother, people have created blogs, made interviews, tried to do something for Kambakhsh, although things have not changed much since he got arrested; do you think he will be released soon, do you still have hope?
Even though hope is the only thing that stands, I have to admit that, unfortunately, the Afghani officials are very good “poker players” and they are cheating the entire international community. After my brother’s arrest nothing has changed, but I still hope that the Afghani people, the champions of democracy and the journalists will not give up. I just hope that we will eventually get something in return for our struggle.
Is the Afghan judiciary system totally corrupted, “Islamized”?
Not only is the Afghan judiciary system corrupted, it is also under control of the Taliban or people that share their same mindset. These people are extremely radical when it comes to religion and they are against modern, western-like thinking and that way of life. The only modern things, during Kambakhsh’s trial were the microphones and the chairs, but the people who were using these instruments were old-fashioned Taliban anyway. This could be a good example of how the judiciary system has changed here: new things, old mindset. They are getting modern equipment from developed countries like Italy, but these people are dark minded and they are using these things against western values.
You have come in Italy to meet with journalists and to speak about the situation in Afghanistan, and to receive the “International Reporter of the Year” award. Speaking about achievements, did the Italian government push for the release of your brother?
I really don’t know what they are doing right now. All I know is that I haven’t seen any results. I don’t know which kind of justice are they are fighting for here. Are they fighting for Taliban-style justice or for the justice human beings really need?
How come Hamid Karzai is not really doing something? Are his hands tied?
I really don’t know, but every time he promises a lot, and, after two years, he is still doing what the Taliban want him to do. Keeping Kambahsh in jail – – despite all the requests and pressure coming from the international community and from the Afghan people.
Andrea Loquenzi Holzer for The Hudsonny