KABUL, Afghanistan – An Afghan journalism student sentenced to death for insulting Islam denied the charges before an appeals court Sunday, saying he only confessed to questioning the religion’s treatment of women because he was tortured.
During an hour-long hearing, a judge read aloud a transcript of the Jan. 22 proceedings against 24-year-old Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh at the primary court in northern Balkh province.
It was the first time the public and the media heard full details from the closed-door trial, which highlights the influence of conservative religious attitudes in post-Taliban Afghanistan’s still-nascent justice system.
The transcript said Kambakhsh disrupted classes at Balkh University by asking questions about women’s rights under Islam. It also said he distributed an article about the subject and wrote an additional three paragraphs for the piece.
The only people with him in the courtroom in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif were three judges, a court scribe and the prosecutor. Kambakhsh said he had no defense lawyer, and only three minutes to defend himself.
On Sunday, Kambakhsh spoke in the court in Kabul, again without a defense lawyer.
“I’m Muslim, and I would never let myself write such an article. All these accusations are nonsense,” he said during an emotional 15-minute statement.
“These accusations come from two professors and other students because of private hostilities against me. I was tortured by the intelligence service in Balkh province, and they made me confess that I wrote three paragraphs in this article.”
According to the Balkh court proceedings, the prosecutor said that Kambakhsh admitted to writing three paragraphs of the article and had initialed them.
He also was accused of writing, “This is the real face of Islam … The prophet Mohammad wrote verses of the holy Quran just for his own benefit.”
Kambakhsh said he did not believe he needed a defense lawyer at the appeals level because he had not done anything wrong, but after pressed, said he would like to have one.
The head of the three-judge panel, Abdul Salaam Qazizada, adjourned the trial until next Sunday to allow Kambakhsh to meet with a lawyer and prepare a written defense.