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Afghan Student Sentenced to Death for Downloading Paper Against Islam

An Afghan court on Tuesday sentenced a 23-year-old journalism student to death for distributing a paper he printed off the Internet that three judges said violated the tenets of Islam, an official said.

The three-judge panel sentenced Sayad Parwez Kambaksh to death for distributing a paper that humiliated Islam, said Fazel Wahab, the chief judge in the northern province of Balkh, where the trial took place. Wahab did not preside over the trial.

Kambaksh's family and the head of a journalists group denounced the verdict and said Kambaksh was not represented by a lawyer at trial. Members of a clerics council had been pushing for Kambaksh to be punished.

The case now goes to the first of two appeals courts, Wahab said. Kambaksh, who has been jailed since October, will remain in custody during appeal.

Wahab said he did not immediately have the details of the paper that Kambaksh circulated, other than that it was against Islam. Kambaksh discussed the paper with his teacher and classmates at Balkh University and several students complained to the government, Wahab said.

Kambaksh's brother, Yacoubi Brahimi, described Tuesday's proceeding as a "secret trial," saying the family did not know it had been scheduled. Some have accused Kambaksh of writing the paper in question, but Brahimi said that his brother printed it off the Internet.

"He told them he didn't write this article," said Brahimi. "It was written by an Iranian."

Wahab said that Kambaksh told the court that he could defend himself and did not need a lawyer. But Kambaksh's brother said his brother should have had an attorney.

Wahab said that only President Hamid Karzai can forgive Kambaksh because he had confessed to violating the tenets of Islam.

Rhimullah Samandar, the head of the Kabul-based National Journalists Union of Afghanistan, said Kambaksh had been sentenced to death under Article 130 of the Afghan constitution. That article says that if no law exists regarding an issue than a court's decision should be in accord with Hanafi jurisprudence.

Hanafi is an orthodox school of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence followed in southern and central Asia.

Samandar called for Karzai to intervene.

"We completely condemn this trial," Samandar said. "It goes against the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press."

Clerics in Balkh and Kunduz province arranged a demonstration in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif last week against Kambaksh, calling on the government not to release him.

Kambaksh also works as a journalist at the Jahan-i-Naw newspaper in Mazar-i-Sharif.