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Afghanistan says it appreciates efforts to save student journalist

  • Story Highlights
  • Parwez Kambaksh, 23, was sentenced to death for distributing an article
  • Afghan government: "The office of President Karzai is closely monitoring the case"
  • Prosecutors deemed the work offensive to Islam
  • Media and human rights groups call on Karzai to intervene
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(CNN) -- Amid international outrage over a student journalist sentenced to death for blaspheming Islam, the Afghan government Saturday said it was "fully aware of the gravity of the case."

Afghanistan "appreciates the concern expressed on his behalf," the government said in a statement released by the Afghan Embassy in Washington.

"The office of President [Hamid] Karzai is closely monitoring the case and working with Afghanistan's judicial system to find a just solution in accordance with Afghan law and our nation's international obligations."

Parwez Kambaksh, 23, was sentenced to death after he was tried and convicted in a Mazar-e-Sharif court on January 22 for distributing an article that commented on Quranic verses that deal with women.

Part of the article discussed whether a Muslim man should have the right to marry more than one woman, and prosecutors deemed the work offensive to Islam. Video Watch how the case is testing the freedom of Afghanistan's press »

Kambaksh -- a journalism student at Balkh University -- said he did not write the article and said his name was added after he printed it from the Internet in October. He has been detained since then.

Kambaksh's family has said that the trial took place behind closed doors and that the young man did not have legal representation.

The student -- who is currently in a jail in Balkh province in northern Afghanistan -- has appealed the conviction. His case will be heard in the provincial court in about a month. Should the provincial judges uphold the conviction, Kambaksh can bring his appeal to the country's supreme court.

Should his appeal fail, Karzai can pardon him.

Earlier this week, a top Afghan lawmaker emphasized that the country's Senate has no say in the case, after members of the Senate expressed support of the death sentence.

Some media outlets interpreted those remarks as reflecting an official position of the Senate, a position that Josh Gross, a spokesman for the Afghan Embassy in Washington, affirmed.

However, Senate spokesman Aminaldin Mozafari said in a Thursday statement that media had inaccurately reported those statements as official, and he stressed that the courts operate independently of the Senate.

"On the case of Parwez Kambaksh, acceptance and supporting of that decision by meshrano jirga [the Senate] was a technical problem which was reported by media," he said.

"In accordance to our constitution, we respect the judicial system of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the independency of the courts in Afghanistan, so therefore we request all the media to kindly convey our message on this issue."

Although the Senate did not vote on the issue, the Senate spokesman is authorized to speak for the legislative body.

Saturday's statement from the Afghan Embassy reiterated the Senate spokesman's statement, saying, "The Afghan Parliament has withdrawn its initial support for the judgment."

Pressure mounts

A small number of Afghans have protested in Kabul and in Balkh province, but the bulk of the outrage has been from international observers.

Media and human rights groups have called on Karzai to intervene.

The United Nations has also condemned the sentence, and the United States last week expressed concern. Washington is holding out hope for the journalist because of the active appeals process, said State Department spokesman Tom Casey.

The Independent, a British newspaper, has taken on Kambaksh's cause and has started a petition to free the student, said Anne Penketh, the newspaper's diplomatic editor.

"Three days ago, we launched our petition, which as of this morning has 38,000 signatures," she said. Penketh lauded Mozafari's statement as a sign that the newspaper has already achieved "a measure of success," but said the newspaper was still calling for Karzai to pardon Kambaksh.

"We're pressing our government to put more pressure on President Karzai," she said. "We've been trying to get hold of him -- in fact, if you're watching, President Karzai, do call."

Penketh said the issue is not just about a journalist.

"It's about human rights, and particularly women's rights in Afghanistan."

Some media groups, including Reporters Without Borders and the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, allege the charges against Kambaksh are in retaliation for his brother's investigative journalism articles, which detail human rights abuses at the hands of political and paramilitary factions in northern Afghanistan.

Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, Kambaksh's brother and a leading independent journalist in the region, has named government officials who extort money from locals in some articles, said Jean MacKenzie, country director of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting.

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In another piece, which is among the articles he is best-known for, Ibrahimi describes the "dancing boys," teenage boys who dress up as girls and dance for male patrons at parties thrown by some commanders in northern Afghanistan, MacKenzie said.

The day after Kambaksh was arrested, authorities paid Ibrahimi a visit and combed through his computer and notebooks, looking for names of sources who helped him in his reporting, MacKenzie said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Wilf Dinnick contributed to this report.

All About AfghanistanHamid KarzaiReporters Without BordersIslam

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