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Afghan Journalist Receives 20-Year Prison Term for Blasphemy


A young Afghan journalist, convicted of blasphemy, has had his death sentence overturned. But the appeals court ordered the reporter to spend 20 years in jail for distributing an Internet article criticizing the Prophet Mohammed's views on women. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman has details from Kabul.

The death sentence against Afghan journalist Perwez Kambakhsh has been overturned, but an appeals court upheld the blasphemy conviction against him.

The head of a three-judge appeals panel, Abdul Salam Qazizada, read the sentence against the reporter.

The judge said the court sentenced Kambakhsh to 20 years in prison for insulting Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, but that the defendant has the right to appeal.

Kambakhsh's troubles began when he distributed to friends an article he had found from Iran on the Internet that alleged Mohammed had ignored the rights of women.

The 24-year-old journalist, who is a college student in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, alleged that he was tortured during a year in detention and that his initial trial 10 months ago in Balkh province lasted only minutes, during which he had no lawyer and was not allowed to testify in his own defense.

After word of the death sentence spread, the conviction brought international condemnation as well as criticism from Afghan media and human rights groups.

Advocacy organizations began a petition drive and campaigns urging authorities to release Kambakhsh. But religious conservatives and some prominent clerics hailed the death sentence.

During Kambakhsh's appeal, three instructors and two students from his university appeared before the court. One student testified that he had been forced by a professor and government intelligence officers to make a statement accusing Kambakhsh of blasphemy. But other witnesses told the judges that Kambakhsh had violated tenets of Islam.

The journalist's lawyer, Afzal Noristani, says the verdict is a conspiracy based on false information and that he will appeal the 20-year prison sentence to Afghanistan's Supreme Court.

Afghanistan's judicial system is modeled on Islamic Sharia law under which the penalty for blasphemy is death.

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