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
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
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
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
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.
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific
on +612 9333 0919
represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries