How he was sentenced to die
By Kim Sengupta in Mazar-I-Sharif, Afghanistan
The Independent, Monday, 25 February 2008
'What they call my trial lasted just four minutes in a closed court. I was told that I was guilty and the decision was that I was going to die'
Clutching the bars at his prison, Sayed Pervez Kambaksh recalls how his life unravelled. "There was no question of me getting a lawyer to represent me in the case; in fact I was not even able to speak on my own defence."
The 23-year-old student, whose death sentence for downloading a report on women's rights from the internet has become an international cause célèbre, was speaking to The Independent at his jail in Mazar-i-Sharif – the first time the outside world has heard his own account of his shattering experience. In a voice soft, somewhat hesitant, he said: "The judges had made up their mind about the case without me. The way they talked to me, looked at me, was the way they look at a condemned man. I wanted to say 'this is wrong, please listen to me', but I was given no chance to explain."
For Mr Kambaksh the four-minute hearing has led to four months of incarceration, sharing a 10 by 12 metre cell with 34 others -- murderers, robbers and terrorists – and having the threat of execution constantly hanging over him. His fate appeared sealed when the Afghan senate passed a motion, proposed by Sibghatullkah Mojeddeid, a key ally of the President Hamid Karzai, confirming the death sentence, although this was later withdrawn after domestic and international protests.
I spoke to Mr Kambaksh at Balkh prison, under the watchful eyes of the warders in their olive green Russian-era uniforms. Here 360 prisoners are packed into a facility for 200, in conditions even the Afghan prison authorities acknowledge are "unacceptable". The inmates, who include 22 women, many convicted of deserting their husbands and adultery, sit around with the forlorn demeanour of those caught up in a vast bureaucratic system with little chance of an early exit.
Since The Independent exposed the case of Mr Kambaksh, eminent public figures such as the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. and Britain's Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, have lobbied Mr Karzai to reprieve him. A petition launched by this newspaper calling for justice for Mr Kambaksh has gathered nearly 90,000 signatures.
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