Washington, D.C. –“The 20-year jail sentence for blasphemy handed down to Sayad Kambakhsh in Afghanistan this week is the kind of outrage to be expected under any constitution that enshrines Islam as the state religion and the Koran as the supreme law of the land,” said Thomas Bowden, an analyst at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights.

A council of mullahs acting under court authority had originally decreed capital punishment for Kambakhsh, a 24-year-old journalism student charged with possessing anti-Islamic books, starting un-Islamic debates in class, and downloading and distributing Internet articles saying that Muhammad ignored women’s rights. That death sentence, which was endorsed by Afghanistan’s upper house of parliament, has now been overturned on appeal.

“In 2006, mobs of clerics were clamoring for the death of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan whose ‘crime’ was converting to Christianity,” Bowden said. “And now, Sayad Kambakhsh faces two decades in jail unless an international outcry embarrasses Afghanistan’s government into lifting the sentence.

“Criminal punishment of blasphemy is fundamentally unjust and outrageous, and ad hoc protests offer no long-term solution. If Islam’s stranglehold on Afghanistan’s government is to end, that nation must adopt an American-style constitution protecting individual rights, including freedom of speech and religion. The strict separation of church and state erects an institutional barrier to religious persecution, as American history shows.

“But a nation that exalts mystical dogma and tribal allegiances cannot be expected to think in such terms. ‘The guy should be hanged,’ said an 18-year-old student at the American University in Kabul, at the time of Kambakhsh’s death sentence. Added a Muslim cleric: ‘He should be punished so that others can learn from him.’ For such people, freedom is an intolerable obstacle to the overriding goal of enforcing Islam.

“When the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan, its stated policy was to promote ‘democracy.’ That policy has now achieved its exact aim. The Afghan government reflects the democratic will of the people. The people want to punish blasphemers, and their constitution allows them to do so lawfully.

“Bush’s policy was based on his delusional belief that Afghans are as freedom-loving as Americans. But what they truly value is religion. Sayad Kambakhsh is living–at least for now–proof that religion injected into government is hostile to freedom.”

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