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FORMER JOURNALIST, MULLAH GET 20 YEARS FOR PUBLISHING KORAN TRANSLATION

IFEX members ARTICLE 19 and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are calling on Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai to intervene in the case of a former journalist and a mullah who were sentenced to 20 years in prison last week for publishing a translation of the Koran.

On 11 September, former journalist Ahmed Ghous Zalmai and Mullah Qari Mushtaq were sentenced by a Kabul court to 20 years in prison for publishing a Dari translation of the Koran. Dari is the Farsi (Persian) dialect spoken in Afghanistan.

"We appeal to the President's spirit of tolerance and ask him to intercede on behalf of two men who have been given extremely severe sentences," said RSF and ARTICLE 19. "Their aim was not to violate Islamic law, but only to promote the Koran among the Persian-speaking peoples."

A five-year suspended sentence was also handed down to the printer, Mohammad Ateef Noori, who will be kept under police surveillance.

The defendants described the verdict as "illegal" and are planning to appeal.

Allegedly, Zalmai and Mushtaq used a Dari translation that had been done in the U.S., but failed to print the Arabic original alongside the translation, as required by Islamic law. According to ARTICLE 19 and RSF, fundamentalist mullahs called for Zalmai's "exemplary punishment," claiming that the translation contained "errors" and reflected "mistaken concepts." The religious affairs minister claimed it was a "Zionist conspiracy."

Zalmai was well known in the 1980s as a fairly outspoken TV journalist, hosting a call-in talk show, "People's Voice". He worked as a cultural attaché in an Afghan embassy after the fall of the Communist government. After several years of exile in the Netherlands, the Karzai government invited him back to work for public radio and television. Zalmai also headed the Afghanistan National Journalists Association and was spokesperson for the Kabul prosecutor's office for several years.

Visit these links:
- ARTICLE 19/RSF: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/96976
- International Federation of Journalists: http://tinyurl.com/5gym8t
(17 September 2008)

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