The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins the call by fellow international press freedom organisations Article 19 and Reporters Without Borders for the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, to intervene immediately in the case of Ahmed Ghous Zelmay.
Zelmay, a former journalist and spokesman for the Attorney-General, was arrested by police on November 4, 2007, for publishing a Dari translation of the Qur’an, a criminal act under Islamic law.
On September 13, more than 10 months after his arrest, Zelmay was sentenced by a Kabul court to 20 years in prison. His colleague Mullah Qari Mushtaq received the same sentence.
Conservative religious leaders’ criticism of the translation led to Zelmay’s arrest in Torkhum, near the border with Pakistan. At the time of his arrest, religious leaders called for him to be punished in accordance with Islamic law.
According to a March 2008 report by the Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association (AIJA), an IFJ affiliate, the conditions of Zelmay’s prison cell were appalling. He was detained in a dark room with dozens of other prisoners and criminals, had no access to writing materials or books and was not permitted outside.
“The IFJ urges President Karzai to intervene in this case immediately, withdraw the sentence and release Zelmay and Mushtaq,” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.
“A 20-year jail term for an action intended to make the Qu’ran accessible to people in their own language is an alarming indicator of the status of freedom of expression in Afghanistan.
“In a healthy democracy, diversity and a free flow of information are crucial, and indeed Afghanistan’s constitution guarantees freedom of speech.”
Another journalist, Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, was sentenced to death on January 22, 2008, on allegations of blasphemy for reportedly downloading articles related to women’s rights under Islam from the Internet. Kambakhsh is appealing the sentence.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 in 122 countries worldwide