The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by a growing number of threats being made against the imprisoned editor of the monthly Haqooq-i-Zan (Women's Rights), Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, by government bodies and representatives who intend to pursue the death penalty in his case.
The High Court ordered Nasab's arrest after local clerics deemed articles published in the magazine "un-Islamic" and "insulting to Islam." One of your religious advisers, Mohaiuddin Baluch, also filed a complaint about the magazine. Police arrested Nasab on October 1.
Nasab's alleged crime was publishing articles in the magazine that questioned harsh interpretations of Islamic law such as amputating the hands of thieves as punishment for stealing, and publicly stoning those convicted of adultery. He also questioned the fact that a woman's testimony is considered only half as valid as a man's in court.
During his trial on October 11, Nasab denied that he had committed blasphemy, but was not allowed to answer the charges in full, according to local journalists who attended the trial. Kabul's Primary Court convicted Nasab of blasphemy on October 22 and sentenced him to two years in prison.
A state prosecutor and the religious council within the Supreme Court are working towards extending Nasab's imprisonment and possibly even imposing the death penalty in his case.
In a recent interview with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, state prosecutor Zmarai Amiri said that he would ask the appeals court to hand down a more onerous sentence for the editor. "Nasab must be punished more severely, up to and including execution," said Amiri. The prosecutor also said that arrest warrants had already been issued to detain and question individuals who have publicly defended Nasab. "There are some people who speak irresponsibly through television and newspapers, without knowing anything about Islamic law, the Afghan constitution or Afghan law. We have decided to arrest and interrogate these people too," Amiri said.
The religious council within the Supreme Court, the Dar-ul-Ifta, issued a verdict against Nasab in September after ruling that the articles in Nasab's magazine contradicted verses in the Koran. The punishment for such statements can be death.
Local and international press freedom groups, including CPJ, protested vociferously when Nasab was arrested, put on trial, and convicted of blasphemy because authorities acted against Afghanistan's own media law and against the interests of a free press. CPJ believes that journalists should never go to jail for their work as journalists.
We are disturbed by the news that government representatives are requesting the death penalty for an editor, and threatening to detain anyone who questions their actions.
You signed the revised media law in March 2004 that carried over an existing ban on content deemed "insulting" to Islam, but when the law was signed, government officials said that journalists could only be detained with the approval of a special commission of government officials and journalists established to review such cases. Such approval was not sought or given before Nasab's arrest.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues worldwide, we are deeply concerned by the threats against imprisoned editor Ali Mohaqiq Nasab and call for his immediate release.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.