IFJ Alarmed by Sentencing of Afghan Journalist


The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply worried over

a Kabul Appeal Court’s

verdict upholding a 20-year prison sentence on Ghous Zelmay, a former

journalist and spokesman for Afghanistan’s

Attorney-General, on charges of wrongly interpreting religious scripture.


Zelmay was arrested in November 2007, shortly after he published a

translation of the Holy Qur’an in Dari, one of Afghanistan’s two official

languages. The translation was published without the original Arabic script accompanying

it, and was deemed to have several inaccuracies. Criticism by conservative religious

leaders initially sparked a call for Zelmay’s prosecution.


In September 2008, Zelmay was sentenced by a trial court to a 20-year

prison term.


Mullah Qari Mushtaq Ahmad, a religious scholar who certified the Dari translation

as accurate, was also convicted with Zelmay.


According to the Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association (AIJA), an

IFJ affiliate, Kabul’s

Appeals Court

upheld the sentence and conviction on February 15 after an open hearing.


Zelmay protested the verdict in open court, declaring himself a devout

person interested solely in making the scripture accessible to the many people

in Afghanistan

who read and speak only the Dari language.


The IFJ joins the AIJA in calling for the intervention of Afghanistan’s

Chief Justice, Abdul Salam Azeemi, and President Hamid Karzai in this case.


“The harsh sentence against Zelmay

marks a tragedy for the rights of journalists in a country where freedom of

expression is constitutionally enshrined,” IFJ Asia-Pacific

Director Jacqueline Park said.


“A lenient view should be taken of his case since Zelmay and his

collaborators were seeking to serve a public cause.”


Zelmay was arrested shortly after

the arrest of Sayed Parvez Kambakhsh, 24, in October 2007 on accusations of insolence

to Islam.


Kambakhsh, who studied journalism

and worked as a reporter for the daily newspaper Janan-e-Naw inthe

northern city of Mazhar-e-Sharif,

is currently serving a 20-year jail sentence. In January 2008, a closed hearing

of the Balkh

primary court sentenced Kambakhsh to death. The death sentence was overturned on

appeal in October 2008.


For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919



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