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Journalist sentenced to 20 years for blasphemy

An Afghan journalist has been sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges of insulting Islam. Reporters Without Borders, a media rights advocacy group, calls the decision "shameful".

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A court's decision to sentence a young Afghan reporter to 20 years in jail for blasphemy is shameful, even if the court had overturned the death penalty, Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday.

A Kabul appeal court on Tuesday upheld the conviction of 24-year-old Perwiz Kambakhsh, who has spent a year in prison on charges of "insulting Islam", but reduced his sentence.

Reporters Without Borders, an international media rights watchdog, said it was outraged by the decision, which it called "shameful."

The appeal court "has eliminated the possibility of his being executed, but it has also exposed the degree to which some Afghan judges are susceptible to pressure from fundamentalists," it said in a statement.

"Kambakhsh was able this time to be represented by a lawyer, but the appeal proceedings were marred by ideological distortion, a glaring lack of evidence and incomprehensible delays that ended up undermining the court's serenity."

The reporter was not given a lawyer at his first trial in the northern province of Balkh in January at which he was sentenced to death after a hearing that lasted minutes.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said the overturning of the death sentence was an "encouraging step towards justice" but it demanded a full withdrawal of all charges.

The group again urged President Hamid Karzai to intervene, saying he had already pledged to do so.

The case, and another in which a former reporter was last month sentenced to 20 years in jail for publishing a translation of the Koran alleged to contain errors, showed malfunctions in the application of a person's right to a fair trial, it said.

"In a country where freedom of expression is constitutionally enshrined, no journalist or indeed any person who accesses or publishes publicly available information should face death or life imprisonment," IFJ said.

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