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25th June

Update: Afghanistan Mis-Translates Humanity...

Prime minister calls for death of Koran translator

Afghanistan flag An Afghan journalist accused of distributing an unacceptable translation of the Koran should be put to death, says former Prime Minister Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai.

Former journalist Ghows Zalmay, who was also the spokesman for Afghanistan's Attorney-General, was arrested in November last year for distributing a translation of the Koran into Dari, one of Afghanistan's two official languages.

Ahmadzai told Adnkronos International (AKI) he supported the death penalty for Zalmay: Today Afghanistan is full of vices. Several Afghan restaurants serve liquor, despite it being illegal and on top of it, such material is distributed. I am in favour of his death.

Muslim scholars in Afghanistan reportedly said that the new version of the Koran 'misinterpreted' verses about alcohol, begging, homosexuality and adultery. They also complained that this version was not accompanied by the original version of the Koran in Arabic.

Ghows is reportedy in jail after being accused of blasphemy and his lawyers say he risks the death penalty. He is expected to face charges in an Afghan court within the next week.


16th September

Update: Koran Translated into Blasphemy...

Koran translator given 20 years in jail

Afghanistan flagAn Afghan court has sentenced an ex-journalist and a mullah to 20 years in prison each for publishing a translation of the Koran alleged to contain errors.

Afghan and international media rights organisations condemned the sentences handed down and called on President Hamid Karzai to intervene.

Former journalist Ahmed Ghous Zalmai was arrested in November trying to escape into Pakistan as religious clerics and parliament were in an uproar about a Dari-language version of the Muslim holy book he had published.

Mullah Qari Mushtaq, who was sentenced with him, had approved the version which other clerics and parliamentarians claimed contained errors and misunderstandings about issues such as homosexuality and adultery. Critics also complained the book did not include the original Arabic text as required by Islamic law.

We appeal to the President's spirit of tolerance and ask him to intercede on behalf of two men who have been given extremely severe sentences, said Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and Article 19, another rights watchdog.

Zalmai, expected to appeal, had been a fairly outspoken TV journalist in the 1980s, Reporters Without Borders said. At the time of his arrest, he was a spokesman in the office of the attorney-general.


26th February

Updated: The Fear of Justice...

Cards stacked against the Quran translator accused of blasphemy in Afghanistan

Afghanistan flagA pocket-size translation of the Quran has already landed six men in prison in Afghanistan and left two of them begging judges to spare their lives. They're accused of modifying the Quran and their fate could be decided Sunday in court.

The book appeared among gifts left for the cleric at a major Kabul mosque after Friday prayers in September 2007. It was a translation of the Quran into one of Afghanistan's languages, with a note giving permission to reprint the text as long as it was distributed for free.

Some of the men of the mosque said the book would be useful to Afghans who didn't know Arabic, so they took up a collection for printing. The mosque's cleric asked Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai, a longtime friend, to get the books printed.

But as some of the 1,000 copies made their way to conservative Muslim clerics in Kabul, whispers began, then an outcry. Many clerics rejected the book because it did not include the original Arabic verses alongside the translation. It's a particularly sensitive detail for Muslims, who regard the Arabic Quran as words given directly by God. A translation is not considered a Quran itself, and a mistranslation could warp God's word. Translated editions of the Quran abound in Kabul markets, but they include Arabic verses.

The country's powerful Islamic council issued an edict condemning the book. Police arrested Zalmai as he was fleeing to Pakistan, along with three other men the government says were trying to help him escape. The publisher and the mosque's cleric, who signed a letter endorsing the book, were also jailed.

Afghanistan's court system appears to be stacked against those accused of religious crimes. Judges don't want to seem soft on potential heretics and lawyers don't want to be seen defending them, said Afzal Shurmach Nooristani, whose Afghan Legal Aid group is defending Zalmai.

The publisher was originally sentenced to five years in prison. Zalmai and the cleric were sentenced to 20, and now the prosecutor is demanding the death penalty for the two as a judge hears appeals.

Judges are also likely to err on the hard line side, they are so nervous about annoying the Ulema council and being criticized that they tend to push the Islamic cases aside and just defer to what others say," said John Dempsey, a legal expert with the U.S. Institute of Peace in Kabul. Deferring to the council means that edicts issued by the group of clerics can influence rulings more than laws on the books or a judge's own interpretation of Shariah law, he said.

Update: Unappealing Islam

26th February 2009. See article from

On February 15, Zalmai and his cleric friend were in court to hear their fate in an appeals court. Though they barely escaped the death penalty, the three-judge panel upheld a lower court sentence of 20 years in prison for each man.

When reading out the sentence, the chief judge reiterated that under Islamic Shariah law, He who commits such an act is an infidel and should be killed.