Thursday, October 09, 2008

World Day Against Death Penalty:
urgent need for abolition also concerns journalists

by Reporters without Borders

[...]“It would be inappropriate, when talking about the death penalty, to suggest that its use in some cases is more appalling than in others,” the press freedom organisation said. “But we want to highlight one of its pernicious aspects, which directly concerns journalists and free expression, with the aim of responding once and for all to those who still hesitate to support calls for the abolition of this irreversible punishment on the grounds that it is only used against the most horrible criminals.”

The most emblematic case today is in a country which, paradoxically, is under the surveillance of powerful parliamentary democracies - Afghanistan. Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a young journalist and student, and contributor to the magazine Jahan-e Naw (“New World”), languishes in a Kabul prison cell awaiting the outcome of the interminable appeal proceedings against his conviction on a blasphemy charge.

Despite demonstrations by many fellow Afghan journalists and writers, this young man is still under the sentence of death that was issued by a court in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in January 2008, at the end of a summary trial behind closed doors at which he was not defended by a lawyer. [...]

A similar case in Iran last year highlighted how the death penalty can be a terrifying tool for silencing dissenting voices. Adnan Hassanpour, a 26-year-old journalist in Iranian Kurdistan who wrote for the now banned weekly Asou and various foreign news media, was arrested on 25 January 2007 and imprisoned in Mahabad (Kurdistan).

After sentencing him to death twice for “subversive activities against national security,” the Iranian courts finally decided in September of this year that he could not be regarded as a “mohareb” (enemy of God) and transferred his case to a civil court in Kurdistan. This impassioned young advocate of Kurdish cultural rights is now being held in Sanandaj. He has already gone on hunger strike twice in protest against his prison conditions. [...]

Our concerns are not limited to the Muslim world. The Ethiopian authorities jailed the leaders of the main opposition party on charges of high treason and genocide in November 2005 after a wave of rioting and bloodshed was triggered by the announcement that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s party had won the parliamentary elections.

Around 20 pro-opposition newspaper publishers and editors were also jailed on the same charges. They were all eventually acquitted or pardoned in 2007, but before that, some of them were sentenced to death for what was regarded as an ethnically-motivated coup attempt.

The case of radio journalist and Black Panther Party member Mumia Abu-Jamal in the United States serves as a reminder that capital punishment still has not been abolished in the world’s biggest economy. Sentenced to death in 1982 for the fatal shooting of a policeman, Daniel Faulkner - which he denies doing - Abu-Jamal has spent 26 years on death row. A Philadelphia federal appeal court commuted the sentence in March of this year to life imprisonment. The prosecution could still appeal.

Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press freedom throughout the world. It has nine national sections (Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). It has representatives in Bangkok, London, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And it has more than 120 correspondents worldwide.

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