Civil Liberties

Meet the New Theocrats


An Afghan court has sentenced Sayed Parwiz Kambakhsh, a 23-year-old journalism student, to death for downloading and distributing an article critical of Muhammad's views on women's rights. Disturbing as that news is for anyone who thought the U.S. had freed Afghanistan from the oppressive rule of brutal theocrats, the reaction of Kambakhsh's defenders is in some ways even more troubling (italics added):

The sentence was denounced as unfair by Mr. Kambakhsh's family and journalists' organizations. Mr. Kambakhsh's brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, denied that his sibling had committed blasphemy, and said that his brother was not given enough time to prepare his defense and was denied a lawyer….

He is being punished for articles written by his brother, said Jean Mackenzie, director of the Institute for Peace and War Reporting in Afghanistan, which has printed some of Mr. Ibrahimi's articles. Officials from the National Directorate of Security raided Mr. Ibrahimi's home and seized his computer hard drive the day after his brother was arrested in October, she said. They were most interested in the sources for an article critical of a local militia leader and legislator named Piram Qol, she said. 

In short, the death sentence is excessively harsh, distributing the article did not really amount to blasphemy, the trial was unfair, and the charges were politically motivated. How about the idea that no one should face criminal charges because something he said offended people? That even if Kambakhsh did insult the Prophet, had an adequate defense, and was sentenced only to, say, tongue removal or hand amputation or 40 lashes, there still would be something wrong with the way he was treated? Does that perspective have no advocates in the new, enlightened and civilized Afghanistan?