CPJ condemns Afghan editor’s conviction, two-year jail sentence

New York, October 24, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is outraged by the conviction of Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, editor of the monthly Haqooq-i-Zan (Women’s Rights), on blasphemy charges and the two-year jail sentence handed down by Kabul’s Primary Court on October 22.

Judge Ansarullah Malawizada said that his ruling in Nasab’s case was based on recommendations from the conservative Ulama Council, a group of the country’s leading clerics. “The Ulama Council sent us a letter saying that he should be punished, so I sentenced him to two years’ jail,” Malawizada told The Associated Press.

Police arrested Nasab, a religious scholar, on October 1 after clerics complained that he had published two articles that questioned harsh interpretations of Islamic law and were, thus, “offensive to Islam.” The editor’s trial opened on October 11.

Writings considered anti-Islamic are prohibited under a revised media law signed in March 2004, but the law is vaguely worded and local journalists are uncertain what constitutes a violation. The revised law also stipulates that journalists can only be detained with the approval of a 17- member commission of government officials and journalists. Police did not obtain approval from the commission before arresting Nasab.

On October 19, Minister of Information and Culture Sayed Makhdum Raheen convened a hearing of the media commission, which found Nasab not guilty. “We found there was no blasphemy in the articles at all,” Raheen said in an interview with The New York Times. The commission’s recommendations are non-binding.

“Legal procedures were not followed in the case against our colleague Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, whose rights to freedom of speech as guaranteed by Afghanistan’s constitution have been violated by this court,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We condemn this disturbing ruling and urge authorities to overturn this conviction and release Nasab at once.”

In a report shown on Afghan state television on Saturday, Nasab rejected the conviction: “I do not accept the verdict by the court. It is a forced and illegal court.” Nasab said that he was not allowed to have a lawyer to help in his defense. He has three weeks to file his appeal. Nasab is being held in Kabul’s Central Jail. Local media sources say that he is under threat from other inmates because of the nature of the charges against him.